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BREAKOUT 




UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 

The European Theater of Operations 
BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 

by 

Martin Blumenson 



CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY 
UNITED STATES ARMY 
WASHINGTON, D.C., 1993 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 61-6000 



First Printed 1961— CMH Pub 7-5-1 



For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 



. . . to Those Who Served 



Foreword 



The campaign in the summer of 1944 related in this volume included 
some of the most spectacular ground action of the U.S. Army during World 
War II. It began with the slow and costly hedgerow fighting against deter- 
mined German efforts to contain the Normandy beachhead; it entered its 
decisive stage when the breach of German defenses permitted full exploita- 
tion of the power and mobility of U.S. Army ground troops; and it reached 
the peak of brilliance with successive envelopments of principal German 
forces and the pursuit of their remnants north and east to free most of 
France, part of Belgium, and portions of the Netherlands. By late August 
the war in the west appeared to be almost over, but the tyranny of logistics 
gave the enemy time to rally at the fortified West Wall and delay surrender 
for another eight months. 

In the European Theater subseries the backdrop for this volume is Cross- 
Ckannel Attack, which carries the story to 1 July. Breakout and Pursuit 
follows the U.S. First Army through 10 September (where The Siegfried 
Line Campaign picks up the narrative), and the U.S. Third Army through 
31 August (where The Lorraine Campaign begins). The logistical factors 
that played so large a part in governing the pace and extent of combat 
operations are described in much greater detail in Volume 1 of Logistical 
Support of the Armies. 

The tremendous scope of this campaign, and its partially improvised 
character, have left a heritage of controversies to which no final answers can 
be given. The author has had free access to the records and to many of the 
leading players in the drama, and his account should have wide appeal to 
the general reader as well as to the serious military student of grand tactics. 



Washington 25, D.C. 
15 June i960 



JAMES A. NORELL 
Brigadier General, USA 
Chief of Military History 



The Author 



Martin Blumenson, a graduate of Bucknell University, received M.A. 
degrees in History from Bucknell in 1940 and from Harvard University in 
1942. Commissioned in the Army of the United States, he served as a his- 
torical officer of the Third and Seventh Armies in the European theater dur- 
ing World War II. After the war he taught history at the U.S. Merchant 
Marine Academy (Kings Point) and at Hofstra College. Recalled to active 
duty with the U.S. Army in 1950, he commanded a historical detachment 
in Korea before beginning work on Breakout and Pursuit in June 1952. He 
wrote the book while on active duty in the Office of the Chief of Military 
History. After a tour of duty as Historian, Joint Task Force SEVEN, he 
returned to OCMH as a civilian historian and is writing a volume on the 
war in the Mediterranean theater— Salerno to Cassino. His works include 
Special Problems of the Korean Conflict (Washington, 1952); The Atomic 
Weapons Tests in the Pacific, 1956 (Washington, 1957); two essays in Com- 
mand Decisions (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959); and 
numerous articles in military and historical journals. 



vi 



Preface 



Covering the period 1 July to 11 September 1944, Breakout and Pursuit 
takes up the story of the European campaign at the time when the Allies 
considered their cross-Channel beachhead well established on the Continent. 
How the Allies exploited the initial success of their landings and drove from 
the shores of Normandy to the German border is the subject of the volume. 

The events of the period comprise a rich variety of military experience. 
Virtually every sort of major operation involving co-ordinated action of the 
combined arms is found: the grueling positional warfare of the battle of 
the hedgerows, the breakthrough of the main enemy position, exploitation, 
encirclement, and pursuit, as well as a number of actions falling under the 
general heading of special operations— an assault river crossing, the siege 
of a fortress, and night combat, among others. In their variety and com- 
plexity, these operations frequently bring into sharp focus the delicate prob- 
lems of coalition warfare. 

The point of view is from the top down— how the situation appeared to 
the commanders and what decisions they made to solve their problems. 
Though the author has tried to present at some time or other the situation 
at each command echelon on the Allied side, the most consistent observa- 
tion post is at the corps level where, because of the nature of the operations, 
particular independence of judgment and great initiative in action were 
required. 

The emphasis is on the ground combat performed by U.S. Army troops. 
The activities of the other Allied forces and of the opposing Germans are 
included to the extent required to bring the American effort into proper 
perspective. Air support and logistical arrangements have been detailed 
when necessary for a better understanding of ground operations. 

The attempt has been made to fulfill two objectives, each of which has 
sometimes excluded the other. On the one hand, the author has endeavored 
to present material of interest to the career soldier, who may seek instruc- 
tion and who may perhaps be prompted to further study. On the other 
hand, the author has tried to write an account of interest to the general 
reader, who may be motivated by curiosity and the hope of learning in 
some detail about the conduct of the campaign, the expenditure of men and 
materiel, and the problems that face military leaders engaged in war. 

The dates in the volume are all in 1944 unless otherwise noted. 



vii 



The author has had the privilege and pleasure of working with many 
who have lightened his task and to whom he is greatly indebted. Mr. 
Wsevolod Aglaimoff, Deputy Chief Historian for Cartography, gave liberally 
of his military sophistication, perspective, and wisdom; his contributions to 
the military content and language of this volume were considerable. Mr. 
James B. Hodgson did most of the research in the German records; his 
knowledge of enemy operations was always a tonic to an author struggling to 
reflect both sides of the same battle in a single mirror. Miss Mary Ann 
Bacon, the editor, saved the author embarrassment by discovering before it 
was too late many inconsistencies and contradictions in fact as well as in 
style. Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield, the former Chief Historian, by his very 
presence an inspiration in the cause of scholarship, gave invaluable help in 
military as well as historical matters during the writing and revision of the 
manuscript. 

Mrs. Lois Aldridge at the Federal Records Center, Alexandria, was never 
too busy to locate and make available pertinent documents, which otherwise 
would not have come to the author's attention. Mrs. Helen V. Whitting- 
ton, copy editor, performed a painstaking task with cheerful patience. 
Ruth Alexandra Phillips selected the photographs. Nicholas J. Anthony 
compiled the Index. 

Among those to whom the author owes a special debt of appreciation 
are the present Chief of Military History, Brig. Gen. James A. Norell, as 
well as Maj. Gens. Orlando Ward, Albert C. Smith, and John H. Stokes, for- 
mer Chiefs of Military History, and Cols. George G. O'Connor and Ridgway 
P. Smith, Jr., former Chiefs of the War Histories Division. 

The work was undertaken under the guidance of Dr. Hugh Cole and 
the supervision of Dr. Roland A. Ruppenthal, former chiefs of the European 
section. It was completed under the direction of Mr. Charles B. Mac- 
Donald, Senior Historical Adviser of the World War II Branch, whose 
understanding of military operations, felicity of phrase, and patient and un- 
sparing counsel put him without question first among those who helped to 
give the volume whatever value it may have. 

To these and many more go my sincere thanks. 

For the facts presented, the interpretations made, and the conclusions 
drawn, for inadequacies and errors, I alone am responsible. 

Washington D.C. MARTIN BLUMENSON 

15 June 1900 



viii 



Contents 



PART ONE 



In the Wake of the Invasion 

Chapter Page 

I. THE ALLIES 3 

Mission 3 

Forces 7 

Terrain 10 

Tactics . 13 

II. THE ENEMY 17 

The Machinery of War 17 

The Changing Strategy 20 

Tactical Dispositions 29 

III. THE SITUATION 36 

American 36 

German 47 

PART TWO 

The Battle of the Hedgerows 

IV. THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 53 

The Preparations 53 

The Defenses 58 

Poterie Ridge 60 

Mont Castre 63 

Montgardon Ridge 72 

V. THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 78 

The Carentan-Periers Isthmus 78 

The Vire and Taute Bridgehead 90 

VI. THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 102 



ix 



Chapter Page 

VII. THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 119 

The Battle for Caen 119 

Toward Lessay 123 

Toward Periers 128 

Counterattack 133 

Toward the Periers-St. L6 Road 140 

VIII. THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 146 

The Objective 146 

Hill 192 149 

Down the Martinville Ridge 153 

Hill 122 159 

"Come Hell or High Water" 163 

A Legend Is Born 166 

IX. THE CONCLUSIONS 175 

The American Point of View 175 

The German Point of View 180 

PART THREE 

Breakthrough 

X. THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 185 

In Search of a Panacea 185 

In Search of a Breakthrough: GOODWOOD 188 

XI. COBRA PREPARATIONS 197 

Preliminary Operations 198 

The Troops 204 

The Plot Against Hitler 210 

The Breakthrough Plan 213 

XII. COBRA 224 

The Opposition 224 

Bombardment 228 

Effect on the Enemy 238 

Ground Attack 241 

XIII. THE BREAKTHROUGH 247 

German Reaction 247 

Penetration 249 

Commitment of Armor 252 

Limited Exploitation 255 



x 



Chapter Page 

XIV. THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 264 

The Second Thrust Toward Coutances 264 

The Pressure Force 266 

COBRA Completed 272 

XV. EXPLOITING THE BREACH 282 

The COBRA Diversion 282 

The Post-COBRA Plan 286 

East of the Vire River 290 

A Clash of Spearheads 295 

XVI. BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 305 

The Outflanking Force 305 

The Breakout to Avranches 309 

XVII. THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 323 

The Riesensauerei 323 

The Explanation 325 

The Allied Outlook 331 

PART FOUR 

Breakout Into Brittany 

XVIII. PLANS, PERSONALITIES, AND PROBLEMS 339 

German Plans 339 

A New Army 343 

Personalities and Concepts 347 

Problems 351 

XIX. RENNES, LORIENT, AND NANTES 357 

XX. "TAKE BREST" 369 

XXI. ST. MALO AND THE NORTH SHORE 389 

The Decision at St. Malo 389 

Sweeping the North Shore 391 

"To the Last Stone" 393 

The Reduction of Dinard 399 

Siege Operations 402 

The Citadel 406 

Cezembre 411 



xi 



PART FIVE 



Breakout to the East 

Chapter Page 

XXII. WEEK OF DECISION 419 

The German Decision 419 

Commitment of a Corps 424 

OVERLORD Modified 430 

"Don't Be Surprised" 432 

XXIII. OPPORTUNITIES AND INTENTIONS 440 

The American Task 440 

The German Task 442 

The Drive to Mortain 444 

The Battle for Vire 449 

Montgomery's Intentions 454 

XXIV. THE MORTAIN COUNTERATTACK 457 

German Intentions 457 

The Attack 460 

The American Reaction 465 

PART SIX 

Encirclement and the Drive to the Seine 

XXV. ENCIRCLEMENT 479 

Envelopment from the North 479 

The German Dilemma 481 

The Battle at Mortain 486 

Concepts of Encirclement 492 

Envelopment from the South 497 

XXVI. THE ARGENTAN-FALAISE POCKET 506 

Bradley's Decision 506 

The Canadians at Falaise 509 

The Pocket Tightened 510 

The German Decision to Withdraw 515 

The Allied Decision to Close the Pocket 523 

XXVII. CLOSING THE POCKET 528 

The Beginning of the End 528 

Enter Model, Exit Kluge 532 

The Pocket Closed 537 

The German Breakout 542 

Escape 547 

The Results 556 

xii 



Chapter P a g e 

XXVIII. THE DRIVE TO THE SEINE 559 

South to the Loire 559 

The Drive to the East 563 

To the Seine and Across 572 

The Second Encirclement Attempt 575 

Through the Paris-Orleans Gap 583 

XXIX. THE LIBERATION OF PARIS 590 

Allied Plans 590 

German Hopes 591 

French Aims 594 

The Critical Days 595 

The French Point of View 598 

Eisenhower's Decision 602 

On to Paris 606 

The Liberation 610 

The Aftermath 618 



PART SEVEN 
Pursuit 



XXX. THE BATTLE FOR BREST 631 

The Post-OVERLORD Decision 631 

The Problems at Brest 634 

The Fight for Brest 640 

The Best Laid Plans 655 

XXXI. THE DRIVE BEYOND THE SEINE 657 

The Framework of the Pursuit 657 

Patton's Advance to the Meuse 664 

The Main Effort 670 

XXXII. TOWARD THE HEART OF GERMANY 676 

The Mons Pocket 676 

Broad Front versus Narrow 684 

The Nature of the Pursuit 688 

To the West Wall 692 

The End of the Line 696 

Appendix 

A. TABLE OF EQUIVALENT RANKS 703 

B. RECIPIENTS OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS 704 
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 707 



xiii 



Page 



GLOSSARY . . 712 

BASIC MILITARY MAP SYMBOLS 718 

INDEX 723 

Maps 

1. The Bocage Country 12 

2. Order of Battle OB WEST, 2 July 1944 21 

3. Attack of VIII Corps, 3-7 July 1944 54 

4. Attack of VII Corps, 4-7 July 1944 79 

5. Attack of XIX Corps West of the Vire River, 7-10 July 1944 ... 91 

6. Battle for Caen, 8-9 July 1944 121 

7. Panzer Lehr Attack, 11 July 1944 136 

8. Attack on Hill 192, 11 July 1944 150 

9. Attack of Second British Army, 18-21 July 1944 190 

10. Operation Cobra, VII Corps Plan, 20 July 1944 216 

11. Reduction of St. Malo, 4-17 August 1944 395 

12. XV Corps, 2-8 August 1944 426 

13. First U.S. Army, 1-6 August 1944 445 

14. 12th Army Group Plan, 8 August 1944 493 

15. Normandy Front, 7-11 August 1944 496 

16. XV Corps, 9-12 August 1944 498 

17. Argentan-Falaise Pocket, 12-16 August 1944 512 

18. Into the City, 25 August 616 



Maps I-XVare in accompanying map envelope 

I. Normandy Front, 2 July 1944 

II. First Army Front West of the Virc River, 8- 1 5 July 1 944 

III. The Battle of St. L6, 1 1-1 8 July 1 944 

IV. German Troop Disposition, Night 24-25 July 1 944 
V. Breakthrough, 25-27 July 1944 

VI. Enlarging the Breach, 28-29 J u 'y 1 944 

VII. Exploitation, 30-31 July 1944 

VIII. Breakout into Brittany, 1- 12 August 1 944 

IX. Regrouping of German Forces, 1-6 August 1 944 

X. German Counterattack at Mortain, 7 August 1 944 

XI. Closing the Argentan-Falaise Pocket, 17-19 August 1 944 

XII. Drive to the Seine, 1 6-25 August 1 944 



xiv 



Page 

XIII. Liberation of Paris, 23-25 August 1944 

XIV. Battle for Brest, 25 August-i 8 September 1 944 

XV. Pursuit to the German Border, 26 August-i o September 1 944 

Illustrations 

Typical Cotentin Terrain 5 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower 7 

General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery 8 

Hedgerow Position in the Cotentin 13 

Adolf Hitler 18 

Generaloberst Alfred Jodl 19 

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel 22 

Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt 23 

Generaloberst Paul Hausser 46 

Generalfeldmarschall Guenther von Kluge 47 

La Haye-du-Puits 56 

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett 92 

Stone Bridge at Airel 98 

German Bicycle Brigade 103 

Congestion at Airel Bridge 108 

British Troops in Caen 123 

Shelled Church in Sainteny 132 

German Panther Tanks 139 

St. L6 147 

Martinville Ridge 155 

Sunken Road Near Carillon 160 

German Hedgerow Position 161 

After Securing Hill 122 165 

Infantrymen in St. L6 170 

Ruins of St. L6 171 

Symbol of St. L6 173 

Lt. Gen. Miles C. Dempsey 188 

Advancing Toward St. Germain 202 

Rhino Tank with Hedgerow Cutter 206 

Advancing Toward Periers-St. L6 Road 230 

155-mm. Howitzer 232 

Waiting for the Cobra Bombardment 234 

After the Cobra Bombardment 235 

9th Division Troops After Cobra Bombardment 237 

Troops Rolling Through Canisy 255 

Engineers Clearing Mines in Lessay 268 

Wrecked German Armor Near Roncey 278 

Tessy-sur-Vire 293 



xv 



Page 

Knocked-out American Tanks 312 

Abandoned German Equipment 320 

Destroyed Enemy Vehicles in Avranches 321 

General Bradley with Lt. Gens. Courtney H. Hodges and George S. 

Patton, Jr 348 

Pontaubault Bridge 371 

Beach at Dinard 401 

Artillerymen Firing 3-inch Gun 404 

Street Fighting in St. Malo 405 

The Citadel, St. Malo 410 

Interior of the Citadel 411 

Bombing of He de Cezembre 412 

St. Malo Prisoners 414 

Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip 424 

Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy 425 

Troops Advancing From Juvigny 446 

Clearing Operations in Vire 453 

Artillery Observation Post 459 

North of Mortain 468 

Scurrying Along Hedgerow 487 

Antiaircraft Position Near St. Hilaire 488 

Through the Rubble of Mortain 489 

Wrecked German Armor, Sourdeval Area 491 

Mamers 501 

Signal Corps Troops in Domfront 518 

Le Bourg-St. Leonard 526 

Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model 531 

General der Fallschirmtruppen Eugen Meindl 539 

A Polish Soldier . . . , 542 

Truckloads of Prisoners 554 

The Pocket Deserted 556 

11th Infantrymen 560 

Maj. Gens. Walton H. Walker and Lindsay McD. Silvester 569 

Armored Bivouac Area 571 

German Removing Boobytrap 573 

Ferrying Jeeps Across the Seine 585 

Advancing Under Fire Toward Fontainebleau 587 

Allied Airlift, Paris 605 

Maj. Gen. Jacques Philippe Leclerc 611 

French Soldiers Attack Toward Chateaufort 612 

In the Rue de Rivoli 617 

General von Choltitz and High-Ranking German Prisoners 619 

General Charles de Gaulle 621 

xvi 



Page 

French Resistance Fighters 623 

Parisians' Welcome to General de Gaulle 627 

Supplies for Brest 637 

Ancient Wall and Moat, Brest 639 

Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton 640 

2d Division Troops Near Brest 645 

Gun Crew Firing 646 

Troops Fighting in Brest 647 

Remains of Fort Keranroux 648 

Fort Montbarey 649 

Generalmajor Hans von der Mosel 650 

Generalleutnant Herman B. Ramcke 651 

Drydock Destruction at Brest 654 

Demolished Bridge at Chalons-sur-Marne 665 

Liberated 689 

Dragon's Teeth, the Siegfried Line 698 

Illustrations are from the Department of Defense files. 



xvii 



The U.S. Army Center of Military History 

The Center of Military History prepares and publishes histories as required by 
the U.S. Army. It coordinates Army historical matters, including historical proper- 
ties, and supervises the Army museum system. It also maintains liaison with public 
and private agencies and individuals to stimulate interest and study in the field 
of military history. The Center is located at 1099 14th Street, N.W., Washington, 
D.C. 20005-3402. 



xviii 



PART ONE 
IN THE WAKE OF THE INVASION 



I 



CHAPTER 1 



The Allies 



Mission 

The heart of Germany was still a long 
way off for the United States and British 
and Canadian troops battling the Ger- 
mans on the Channel coast of France 
on 1 July 1944. The invading armies of 
the Western Allies, with the help of 
other United Nations, had crossed the 
Channel to strike at the heart of Ger- 
many and destroy her armed forces. 
Their purpose: the liberation of western 
Europe. 1 Two months later, in Sep- 
tember, after combat in the hedgerows, 
breakout, exploitation, and pursuit, the 
Allies were much closer to their goal. 
Having carried the battle across France, 
Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Nether- 
lands to the frontier of Germany— to 
within sight of the dragon's teeth along 
the Siegfried Line— the Allies seemed 
very close indeed. 

The cross-Channel attack, launched 
from England on 6 June 1944, had ac- 
complished the first phase of the invasion 
by 1 July. Ground troops had broken 
through the crust of the German coastal 
defenses and had also established a con- 
tinental abutment for a figurative bridge 
that was to carry men and supplies from 
the United Kingdom to France. At the 
beginning of July the Allies looked for- 

1 Dir, CCS to SCAEF, 12 Feb 44, quoted in Gordon 
A. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washing- 
ton, 1951) , App. B. 



ward to executing the second stage of the 
invasion: expanding their continental 
foothold to the size of a projected lodg- 
ment area. 

Lodgment was a preliminary require- 
ment for the offensive operations aimed 
toward the heart of Germany. Before the 
Allies could launch their definitive 
attack, they had to assemble enough men 
and material on the Continent to assure 
success. The plans that had shaped the 
invasion effort— Overlord and Nep- 
tune— defined the boundaries of the 
lodgment area selected. 2 Securing this 
region was the Allied objective at the 
beginning of July. 

The lodgment area contemplated in 
the master plan consisted of that part of 
northwest France bounded on the north 
and the east by the Seine and the Eure 
Rivers and on the south by the Loire, an 
area encompassing almost all of Nor- 
mandy, Brittany in its entirety, and parts 
of the ancient provinces of Anjou, 
Maine, and Orleans. Offering adequate 
maneuver room for ground troops and 
providing terrain suitable for airfields, 
it was within range of air and naval sup- 
port based in England. Perhaps most im- 
portant, its ocean coast line of more than 



"COSSAC (43) 28, Opn Overlord, 15 Jul 43, 
conveniently digested in Harrison, Cross-Channel 
Attack, App. A; Neptune Initial Jt Plan by the 
ANCXF, the CinC 21 AGp, and the Air CinC 
AEAF, 1 Feb 44, NJC 1004, copy 100, SHAEF RG 
910. 



4 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



five hundred miles contained enough 
port facilities to receive and nourish a 
powerful military force. The Seine ports 
of Rouen and Le Havre; Cherbourg; St. 
Malo, Brest, Lorient, and Vannes in 
Brittany; St. Nazaire and Nantes at the 
mouth of the Loire— these and a number 
of smaller harbors had the capacity to 
handle the flow of men and materiel 
deemed necessary to bolster and au gmen t 
the invasion force. ( See Maps H,\VIIl\ |YZZ.| ) 

The planners felt that Allied troops 
could take the lodgment area in three 
months, and in June the Allies had 
already secured a small part of it. After 
seizing the landing beaches, the troops 
pushed inland to a depth varying from 
five to twenty miles. They captured 
Cherbourg and the minor ports of St. 
Vaast, Carentan, Isigny, and Grandcamp. 
They possessed a good lateral route 
of communications from Cherbourg, 
through Valognes, Carentan, and Bay- 
eux, toward Caen. Almost one million 
men, about 500,000 tons of supplies, and 
over 150,000 vehicles had arrived on the 
Continent. 3 

Despite this impressive accomplish- 
ment, certain deficiencies were apparent. 
According to the planners' calculations, 
the Allies at the end of June should have 
held virtually all of Normandy within 
the confines of the lodgment area; in 
actuality, they occupied an area scarcely 
one fifth that size. The amounts of per- 
sonnel, equipment, and supplies brought 



to the Continent lagged behind the plan- 
ners' expectations, and the 31 air squad- 
rons that operated from 17 continental 
airfields contrasted with the planners' re- 
quirements for 62 squadrons based on 
27 fields. In addition, the small Allied 
beachhead was crammed and congested. 
Airstrips were so close to the beaches 
that flight operations sometimes inter- 
fered with ground traffic. Carentan, a 
major communications center on the 
single lateral road held by the Allies, was 
little more than three miles from the 
front, and the city and its small but im- 
portant highway bridge received periodic 
shelling from German field artillery. 
Caen, a D-Day objective, still remained 
in German hands and blocked the ap- 
proaches to the Seine over a compara- 
tively flat plain that favored tank war- 
fare and the construction of airfields. 4 

The disparity between plans and real- 
ity prompted speculation as to whether 
the Allies had lost their momentum, 
whether a military stalemate had already 
been reached, and whether trench war- 
fare similar to that of World War I was 
to recur. It also caused revision of the 
build-up schedules. Additional combat 
troops were ferried to the Continent at 



* Maps numbered in Roman are in accompanying 
map envelope. 

3 Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of 
the Armies, Volume I, UNITED STATES ARMY 
IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1953) (here- 
after cited as Ruppenthal, Logistical Support, I) , 
421, 422, 422n. 



4 Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, 
"Despatch, Air Operations by the Allied Expedi- 
tionary Air Force in N.W. Europe, November 1944," 
Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette of De- 
cember 31, 1946 (January 2, 1947) ; PS/SHAEF (44) 
13 (Final) , SHAEF Ping Staff, Post-NEPTUNE Ping 
Forecast 1, 27 May 44, and SHAEF (44) 17, Com- 
ments on Neptune Initial Jt Plan and Annexes, 
12 Feb 44, both in SGS SHAEF File 381, Post-OvER- 
lord Ping; Annex A to SHAEF/ 1062/7/GDP, 17 
Jun, Summary of Manoeuvre, SHAEF File 307.2, 
Logistic Studies; CS (44) 16th Mtg (19 May) , Min 
of CofS Conf, SGS SHAEF File 337/3; IX Engr 
Comd Prog Rpt, 8 Jul, and 5th ESB Tel Rpt, 28 
Jun, FUSA G-3 Jnl File; Ruppenthal, Logistical 
Support, I, 415-16. 



THE ALLIES 



5 







Typical Cotentin Terrain, looking westward from UTAH Beach. 



the expense of service units. The dis- 
ruption of the planned equilibrium of 
combat and service troops was not seri- 
ous, for the lines of communication were 
short and required only a small adminis- 
trative establishment; but if the Allies 
suddenly surged forward and overran a 
large area, the disproportionately small 
number of service troops might prove 
unequal to the task of maintaining ade- 
quate logistical support. Despite this 
unpleasant possibility, the Allies had 



little choice. Their basic need was 
space— room for maneuver, space for the 
build-up, and more depth in the beach- 
head for security. 5 

Tied to the need for space was a corol- 
lary requirement for port capacity. Cap- 



c Ltr, General D wight D. Eisenhower to Lt Gen 
Omar N. Bradley, 35 Jun, FUSA G-s} Jnl File; 
Dwight D, Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (New 
York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1948) , pp 243, 
S65; Answers by Lt Gen Walter B. Smith and Maj 
Gen Harold R. Bull to questions by members of 
the Hist Sec. KTOIISA. 14-15 Sc P 45. OCMH Files. 



6 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



ture of Cherbourg had confirmed the 
expectation that the Germans would 
destroy the major harbors before allow- 
ing them to fall to the Allies. The de- 
struction of the Cherbourg facilities had 
been so thorough that extensive and 
lengthy rehabilitation was necessary. 
Although restoration of the minor ports 
was practically complete by the begin- 
ning of July, their facilities could accom- 
modate only a relatively insignificant 
portion of the build-up requirements. 
Consequently, as anticipated by the plan- 
ners, the Allies were relying on impro- 
visation at the invasion beaches. At the 
end of June the Allies did not yet appre- 
ciate the surprisingly large tonnage ca- 
pacities developed there. What seemed 
more important were the effects of a 
severe Channel storm that had occurred 
between 19 and 2 1 June, a storm that had 
interrupted logistical operations, de- 
ranged shipping schedules, diminished 
the rate of build-up, and destroyed be- 
yond repair one of two artificial harbors. 
This seemed to indicate beyond doubt 
the pressing need for permanent installa- 
tions that would be serviceable in the 
autumn and winter as well as the sum- 
mer of 1944. Securing major continental 
ports to sustain the invasion effort 
depended on the acquisition of more 
space, and so the Allies hoped to expand 
their continental foothold to gain first 
the ports of Brittany and later those of 
the Seine. 

Though achievement had not kept 
pace with the blueprint, there was good 
reason in the summer of 1944 for Allied 
confidence in ultimate victory. Expect- 



6 Ruppenthal, Logistical Support, I, 406-15; Msg, 
NCWTF to ANCXF, 28 Jun, FUSA G-3 Jnl File. 



ing quick success in their endeavors, the 
Allies were not aware of the heartbreak- 
ing combat that awaited them in Nor- 
mandy. The difficulty of the campaign 
in July was to exceed the forebodings of 
the most pessimistic, even as compar- 
atively rapid advances in August were 
to surpass the prophecies of the most 
daring. 

The operations in western Europe 
comprised but one act of the larger per- 
formance on the stage of World War II. 
In widely separated theaters of opera- 
tions the war against the Axis powers 
had entered the decisive phase. In the 
same month that Allied troops invaded 
western Europe, U.S. forces in the Pacif- 
ic invaded the Marianas and gained an 
important naval victory in the Philip- 
pine Sea. In Burma and India, the 
Allies put the Japanese on the defensive. 
In southern Europe the capture of Rome 
prompted the Germans to start with- 
drawing 150 miles up the Italian penin- 
sula toward Florence and Pisa. Only in 
China was the enemy still conducting 
offensive operations, but this was to be 
his last major attack of the war. The 
Russians broke the Mannerheim Line in 
Finland and were gathering strength for 
advances in the Minsk area and western 
Ukraine, and also in Poland and Ruma- 
nia. Arrangements were being com- 
pleted for an Allied invasion of the 
Mediterranean coast of France in sup- 
port of Overlord. 

Of all these actions, the cross-Channel 
attack was perhaps the most dramatic. 
It illustrated clearly that the Allies had 
taken the initiative. By the summer of 
1944, Allied strategy rather than Axis 
aims had become the controlling factor 
in the bitter struggle. 



THE ALLIES 



7 




General Eisenhower with American field commanders (left to right) Generals 
Bradley, Gerow, and Collins. 



Forces 

Based on the concept of uncondi- 
tional surrender enunciated by President 
Franklin D, Roosevelt at the Casablanca 
Conference in January 1943, Allied 
strategy had as its object the ultimate 
occupation of the enemy countries. Be- 
fore this was possible, the enemy war 
machines had to be destroyed. With 
this as the determining motivation, the 
Allies had embarked on a series of opera- 
tions in an attempt to reach positions 
from which they could launch the final 
crushing blows against the enemy home- 
lands. Against the enemy in Europe, 
the Allies had set into motion an in- 
exorable march begun in 194a in North 



Africa, continued in 1943 in Sicily and 
Italy, and developed in 1944 in France. 
Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill 
promised that the fighting would be kept 
in constant flame until the final climax, 
and to many observers the end of the 
war in Europe seemed near at hand. 
The invasion of Normandy, "part of a 
large strategic plan designed to bring 
about the total defeat of Germany by 
means of heavy and concerted assaults 
upon German-occupied Europe from 
the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean, 
and Russia," gave hope that the pledge 
wotdd be fulfilled. 7 Since the resources 



' Neitiw: Initial Jt Plan cited in n. 2. above. 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




General Montgomery 



of Great Britain and the United States 
in 1944 did IloL permit maintaining more 
than one major fighting front in Europe, 
France was selected as the decisive the- 
ater, Overlord the decisive campaign.* 1 
Directing the invasion of western 
Europe, General D wight D. Eisenhower, 
Supreme Commander, Allied Expedi- 
tionary Force, synchronized the joint 
operations of air, sea, and land forces 
in a field operation of a magnitude never 
hefore attempted. In commanding U.S., 
British, and Canadian troops— the major 
components of his force-and contingents 
representing the governments-in-exile of 
Norway, Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, 
the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, and the 
emhryo government of the Free French, 
he was also making coalition warfare 
work. By temperament and by experi- 

'See, For example. SHAEF to AG WAR, 8-54435, 
Stj J 1111. SHAEF Msg File. 



ence, General Eisenhower was extraor- 
dinarily well qualified for his assign- 
ment. 9 

The naval forces under General Eisen- 
hower that participated in the invasion 
were under the command of Admiral Sir 
Bertram H. Ramsay, Though the air 
forces had no over-all commander. Gen- 
eral Eisenhower employed Air Chief 
Marshal Sir Arthur W. Tedder, his dep- 
uty commander, as a de facto commander 
to co-ordinate the operations of the 
strategic and tactical air arms. Strategic 
air power was the function of the U.S. 
Eighth Air Force, under Lt. Gen. Carl 
Spaaiz, and the British Bomber Com- 
mand, under Air Chief Marshal Sir 
Arthur Harris. Tactical air power in 
direct support of ground operations on 
the Continent came from the U.S. Ninth 
Air Force (under Lt. Gen. Lewis H. 
Brereton), the ad Tactical Air Force of 
the Royal Air Force, and the Air Defence 
Command of Great Britain, all co-ordi- 
nated by the Allied Expeditionary Air 
Force (AEAF), a headquarters com- 
manded by Air Chief Marshal Sir Traf- 
ford Leigh-Mai lory. Assigned to render 
close assistance to U.S. ground troops 
were the fighter-bombers of Maj. Gen. 
Flwood A. Quesada's IX Tactical Air 
Command (TAC), a subordinate unit of 
the Ninth Air Force. 

General Eisenhower reserved for him- 
self the eventual direction of the Allied 
ground forces, a task he would assume 
later. His headquarters, SHAEF, was 
in England, but he was a frequent visitor 
to the combat zone, and he advised his 
subordinate commanders through per- 

° See Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, 
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 
(Washington 1 (j 5 4) , pp. 33 ff. 



THE ALLIES 



9 



sonal conversations and tactful letters. 10 
Early in July he would establish a small 
command post in Normandy so that he 
could remain in close touch with the 
situation. 

For the initial stages of the cross-Chan- 
nel attack, a period that was to last until 
September, General Eisenhower had 
delegated operational control of the 
Allied land forces to General Sir Bernard 
L. Montgomery. The ranking British 
field commander, General Montgomery, 
was thus the de facto commander of all 
the Allied ground forces engaged in 
western Europe. As Commanding Gen- 
eral, ai Army Group, General Mont- 
gomery directed two armies: the Second 
British commanded by Lt. Gen. Miles C. 
Dempsey, and the First U.S. commanded 
by Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley. 11 

The headquarters and subordinate 
elements of two other armies— Lt. Gen. 
Henry D. G. Crerar's First Canadian 
Army and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, 
Jr.'s, U.S. Third Army— were in the 
process of being transported from Eng- 
land to France. Although the elements 
were incorporated into the active armies 
as they arrived on the Continent, the 
more quickly to bolster the fighting 
forces, the army headquarters were not 
to become operational until a time to be 
determined later. When that occurred, 
the British and the Canadian armies 
would come under General Montgom- 
ery's ai Army Group, while the U.S. 
armies would function under an army 



10 See, for example, Ltr, Eisenhower to Bradley, 
•25 Jun, cited in n. 5, above. 

11 For description of General Montgomery's char- 
acter, personality, and habits, see MajoT-General Sit 
Francis de Guingand, Operation Victory (New 
York. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947) , pp. 165-94. 



group commanded by General Bradley. 
With two army group headquarters and 
four armies operational, and with 
SHAEF presumably active on the Con- 
tinent by that time, the direct control 
of all the continental ground troops was 
to revert to General Eisenhower as Su- 
preme Commander. 

To help the armies on the Continent, 
the Allies were counting on a friendly 
civilian population in France. At the 
least, the French were expected to assure 
safety in Allied rear areas, thus freeing 
military forces that would otherwise be 
needed to protect the lines of commu- 
nication. At the most, the inhabitants 
might support the Allied effort by armed 
insurrection, sabotage, and guerrilla war- 
fare against the occupying Germans. 
Long before the invasion, the Allies be- 
gan to try to increase anticipated French 
support by reconstituting the French 
military forces outside France and by fos- 
tering the growth of an effective under- 
ground resistance inside the country. 
By the summer of 1944 one French divi- 
sion was in England and ready to take 
part in Overlord, and an estimated 
100,000 men inside France had arms and 
ammunition for sabotage and diversion- 
ary activity. 12 

To regularize the resistance movement 
and accord its members the same status 
as that of the armed forces in uniform, 
SHAEF, in June 1944, recognized Gen- 
eral Pierre Koenig of the Free French 
headquarters in London as the com- 
mander of the French Forces of the In- 
terior (FFI). His mission was to delay 



12 For a detailed account of how the French 
military forces weTe reconstituted, see Marcel 
Vigneras, Rearming the French, UNITED STATES 
ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1957) . 



10 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the concentration of German forces 
opposing the invasion by impeding the 
movement of German reserves, disrupt- 
ing the enemy lines of communication 
and rear areas, and compelling the 
enemy to maintain large forces in the 
interior to guard against guerrilla raids 
and sabotage. 

By 1 July it was clear that French as- 
sistance to Overlord was of substantial 
value. Although no French Regular 
Army units were yet on the Continent, 
resistance members were helping Allied 
combat troops by acting as guides, giving 
intelligence information, and guarding 
bridges, crossroads, and vital installa- 
tions. Far from the fighting front, the 
presence of armed resistance groups ip 
German rear areas was becoming a 
demoralizing psychological factor for the 
enemy, a harassing agent that diverted 
his troops from the battlefield, disturbed 
his communications, and shook his con- 
fidence. 13 

The Allied combat forces in Nor- 
mandy at the beginning of July were 
deployed on a front about seventy miles 
long. In the eastern sector— the left of 
the 21 Army Group— General Dempsey's 
British Second Army occupied positions 
from the mouth of the Orne River west- 
ward to the vicinity of Caumont. Dur- 
ing June the British had moved south 
from three landing beaches toward the 
general target area of Caen. At the 
end of the month, with three corps 
operational, General Dempsey's line 
formed a semicircle from about three 
to seven miles from the northern edge 



of the city. {Map I) 



In the western sector— the right of the 



21 Army Group— General Bradley's U.S. 
First Army extended from Caumont to 
the west coast of the Cotentin. 14 In June 
the Americans had pushed south from 
Omaha Beach to Caumont, had driven 
west from Utah Beach to isolate Cher- 
bourg, and had moved north and taken 
that port. At the end of the month, 
three corps were in the line while a 
fourth, after capturing Cherbourg, was 
hurrying south to join them. 

The disposition of the Allied forces— 
the British on the left and the Americans 
on the right— had been planned to facil- 
itate supply in the later stages of the in- 
vasion. Although stocks in the United 
Kingdom flowed to the troops of both 
nations over the landing beaches in the 
summer of 1944, eventually men and 
materiel in support of the U.S. forces 
were to come directly from the United 
States, and the Breton ports were the 
most convenient points of entry to 
receive them. Likewise, the continental 
harbors along the Channel were logical 
ports of entry for the British forces. 
This determined not only the deploy- 
ment of troops but also their objectives 
from the outset. 

Terrain 

With the capture of Cherbourg at the 
end of June marking the close of the 
first phase of continental operations, 
General Eisenhower had the choice in 
the next phase of directing action east 
toward the Seine ports of Le Havre and 
Rouen, or south toward the Breton ports, 
principally St. Nazaire, Lorient, and 



13 See Pogue, Supreme Command, Chapters VIII 
and XIII, and below, Chapter XXIX. 



14 Throughout this volume, the term Cotentin 
refers to the area bounded by Cherbourg on the 
north, Avranches on the south, the Vire River on 
the east, and the English Channel on the west. 



THE ALLIES 



11 



Brest. A move to the Seine ports, a 
more direct thrust toward Germany, was 
the bolder course of action, but unless 
the Germans were already withdrawing 
from France or at the point of collapse, 
success appeared dubious. More logical 
was an American drive southward to cap- 
ture the Breton ports while the British 
and Canadians covered American opera- 
tions by striking through Caen and later 
toward the Seine. A major impediment 
to this co urse of action was the terrain. 
(MaJT)\ 

The ground that was to serve as the 
battlefield in July was of a diversified 
nature. 15 On the Allied left was the 
Caen-Falaise plain, gently rolling open 
country of cultivated fields and pastures, 
dry and firm ground suitable for large- 
scale armored operations and airfield 
construction. Facing the Allied center 
between the Orne and Vire Rivers were 
the northern fringes of a sprawling mass 
of broken ground— small hills, low 
ridges, and narrow valleys— gradually 
rising in height toward the south. West 
of the Vire River in the Carentan area 
was a marshy depression crisscrossed by 
sluggish streams and drainage ditches. 
On the extreme right of the Allied front, 
between the marshland and the coast, a 
cluster of hills dominated the country- 
side and gave the Germans a solid anchor 
for their left flank. 

With the exception of the Caen- 
Falaise plain, the battlefield had a com- 

16 Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes 
Econoraiques, Regions geographiques de la France 
(Paris, n.d.) , pp. 263-65; British Admiralty, Hand- 
book Series, France, 3 vols. (London, 1942) , Vol. 
I, p. 12, fig. 7, and p. 18, Vol. II, passim; Atlas Bot- 
tin, 2 vols. (Paris, 1951) , II, 145; Opn Plan Neptune 
(20 May 44) ; First U.S. Army, Report of Opera- 
tions, 20 October 1943-1 August 1944, 7 vols. (Paris, 
1945) , I, 124-25. In footnotes through Chapter 



partmentalized character that was bound 
to impose limitations on the Allies. It 
restricted maneuver and by the same 
token favored the German defense. The 
natural limitations were further aggra- 
vated by a man-made feature encoun- 
tered at every turn, the hedgerow, the 
result of the practice of Norman farmers 
for centuries of enclosing each plot of 
arable land, pasture as well as orchard, 
no matter how small. 

The hedgerow is a fence, half earth, 
half hedge. The wall at the base is a 
dirt parapet that varies in thickness from 
one to four or more feet and in height 
from three to twelve feet. Growing out 
of the wall is a hedge of hawthorn, 
brambles, vines, and trees, in thickness 
from one to three feet, in height from 
three to fifteen feet. Originally prop- 
erty demarcations, hedgerows protect 
crops and cattle from the ocean winds 
that sweep across the land. They pro- 
vide the inhabitants with firewood. De- 
limiting each field, they break the ter- 
rain into numerous walled enclosures. 
Since the fields are tiny, about 200 by 
400 yards in size, the hedgerows are in- 
numerable. Because the fields are ir- 
regular in shape, the hedgerows follow 
no logical pattern. 

Each field has an opening in the hedge- 
rows for human beings, cattle, and 
wagons. For passage to fields that do 
not lie adjacent to a road, innumerable 
wagon trails wind among the hedgerows. 
The trails appear to be sunken lanes, 
and where the hedgerows are high and 
the tops overarch and shut out the light, 
they form a cavelike labyrinth, gloomy 
and damp. 

XXII, all references cited as First U.S. Army, Report 
of Operations, are to the 20 October 1943-1 August 
1944 report. See also footnote 13, Chapter XXIII. 



12 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



THE BOGAGE COUNTRY 



Allied front, 2 Julv 1944 
t , VOA\vj Shaded area — Socage 

10 10 20 MILES 

u "tAm\ r- 1 -! 1 

10 10 20 KILOMETERS 



LE HAVRE 



. Avronches 




Eolaise 



Argentan 



Alenqon 



MAPI 



From a tactical point of view, each 
field is a tiny terrain compartment. 
Several adjoining fields together form a 
natural defensive position echeloned in 
depth. The abundant vegetation and 
ubiquitous trees provide effective cam- 
ouflage, obstruct observation, hinder the 
adjustment of artillery and heavy weap- 



ons fire, and limit the use of armor and 
the supporting arms. 

The hedgerow is the most persistent 
feature in the Cotentin. Unimpressed 
by fine terrain distinctions, American 
soldiers called the whole area the hedge- 
row country, often simply "this goddam 
country." Many troops had already be- 



THE ALLIES 

come familiar with it in June, and before 
long many more would come to know 
and detest it. 

Tactics 

The Overlord and Neptune plans 
had been so concerned with the scope 
and complexity of the problem of getting 
troops ashore on the Continent that the 
bulk of the invasion preparations had 
pointed only toward the initial assault. 
In comparison to the wealth of material 
on the physiography of the coastal 
region, little attention had been given 
to the hedgerows inland. Operational 
techniques had not been developed, nor 
had special equipment been devised. 
The combat units had devoted little 

tactics. 

Looking beyond the landing, some 
British officers, particularly those who 
had withdrawn across France toward 
Cherbourg in 1940, were convinced that 
the Allies could not wage effective war- 
fare in the hedgerows against a strongly 
established enemy. Such leaders as 
Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief 
of the British Imperial General Staff, 
and Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick E. Morgan, 
the chief COSSAC planner, were among 
those who anticipated serious difficul- 
ties. 10 They remembered also the poorly 
armed Chouans, who in the last decade 
of the eighteenth century had utilized 
the hedgerows to fight an effective guer- 



13 




Hedgerow Position in the Cotentin. 



rill a war of ambush against the superior 
armies of the Republic. 17 

Other invasion planners had found 
argument to support the contrary con- 
tention. They felt that the natural 
defensive features of the hedgerow coun- 
try would aid the Allies in maintaining 
their initial continental foothold during 
the critical early period of the build-up. 
They believed that the Germans would 
be unable to stop an attack mounted 
across a wide front. And they expected 
enough progress to be made by the Brit- 
ish through Caen, the gateway to the 
Seine, to outflank the Cotentin. IK 

Failure to secure Caen by 1 July was 



" COSSAC formed the initials of the Chief of 
Staff, Supreme Allied Commander (designate) , 
whose organization formulated the Overlord plan 
in 1943 before the appointment later that year of 
General Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander. 



" Imervs. Pogue Files. 

'"Inlerv, Col S. L, A. Marshall with Gen Eisen- 
hower, Detroit, 3 Jun 46, antl Interv, Pogue with 
Lord Tedder, London, 13 Feb 47, Pogue Files; see 
Lieutenant-Ceneral Sir Frederick Morgan, Overture 
Lo OVERLORD (New York: Doubleday * Com- 
pany, Inc., i 95 o) , pp. 157-58- 



14 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the greatest single disappointment of the 
invasion. A vital communications center, 
Caen was the key to operations eastward 
to the Seine and southeastward to the 
Paris-Orleans gap. Held by the Germans 
who blocked the comparatively flat plain 
that invited the use of armor and 
the construction of airfields, Caen also 
offered harbor installations for small 
ships. Three groups clamored for the 
capture of Caen: the proponents of 
armored warfare, who were in search of 
mobility; the tactical air force engineers, 
who were looking for airfield sites; and 
the logistical organizations, which were 
seeking port facilities. In addition, con- 
tinued German occupation of Caen 
seemed to be dramatic evidence of Allied 
impotence. Without Caen, the Allies 
were vulnerable to an enemy armored 
thrust to the sea, a drive that would, if 
successful, split the Allied foothold and 
imperil the entire invasion effort. To 
some observers, the failure to take the 
city savored of hesitation and excessive 
caution. 19 

Conspicuously untroubled about 
Caen, and apparently unaware of the 
concern the situation was causing, Gen- 
eral Montgomery directed the tactical 
operations on the Continent with what 
might have seemed like exasperating 
calm. For Montgomery, the com- 
mander of the Allied ground forces, the 
important factors at this stage of the 
campaign were not necessarily the cap- 
ture of specific geographical objectives, 
or even the expansion of the continental 



19 Lewis H. Brereton, Lieutenant General, U.S.A., 
The Brereton Diaries (New York: William Morrow 
and Company, 1946) , p. 287; Captain Harry C. 
Butcher, USNR, My Three Years With Eisenhower 
(New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1946) , p. 
581. 



foothold. Retaining the initiative and 
avoiding setbacks and reverses were 
the guiding principles that determined 
his course of action. 20 

These aims were paradoxical. Retain- 
ing the initiative was possible only by 
continued offensive operations; yet this 
course was often risky because the Ger- 
mans had massed the bulk of their 
armor in front of the British sector of 
operations. 21 If in trying to maintain a 
balance between offense and defense 
General Montgomery seemed to give 
more weight to preventing Allied re- 
verses, he was motivated by his belief 
that holding the beachhead securely was 
more important at that time. By direct- 
ing General Dempsey to make a series of 
limited objective attacks with his British 
Second Army during June, however, 
General Montgomery had prevented the 
Germans from regrouping their forces 
for a major counterattack and thus had 
denied them the initiative. 22 

From the equilibrium that General 
Montgomery established, a corollary 
principle was evolved. Unable to move 
through Caen for the moment, General 
Montgomery reasoned that if he could 
"pull the enemy on the Second Army," 
he would facilitate the U.S. First Army 
advance to the south. General Eisen- 
hower had come to the same conclusion 
and expressed the hope that General 
Bradley could attack south while Mont- 
gomery had "got the enemy by the 



20 2 1 AGp Dir, M-502, 18 Jun, Pogue Files. 

21 See below, Ch. II. 

22 Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of 
Alamein, Normandy to the Baltic (Boston: Hough- 
ton Mifflin, 1948) , pp 86, 108; see also Field 
Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, 
Despatch (New York: The British Information 
Services, 1946) , p. 6. 



THE ALLIES 



15 



throat on the east." 23 Both men were 
harking back to the Overlord concept, 
which had proposed that the British in- 
stitute operations toward the east in 
order to cover American operations to 
the south. Attracting the bulk of the 
enemy strength was a dangerous game, 
but the Germans, for other reasons, had 
already concentrated a larger part of 
their power in front of the British sector. 
General Montgomery thus had little 
alternative but to contain these forces. 
He had begun to do so even before the 
Americans were ready to attack to the 
south. While the U.S. First Army was 
driving north toward Cherbourg, Gen- 
eral Montgomery had planned an attack 
by the British Second Army to insure, as 
he later wrote, "the retention of the bulk 
of the enemy armour on the Second 
Army front." 24 

Originally set for 18 June, the British 
attack had been postponed because cer- 
tain essential units were still unloading 
on the beaches and artillery ammunition 
was temporarily in short supply. Not 
until a week later, on 25 June, had the 
British Second Army jumped off— its 
objective the capture of Caen and bridge- 
heads across the Orne River south of 
that city. Rainy weather and deter- 
mined enemy resistance balked the Brit- 
ish of gaining their objectives, and Caen 
remained in enemy hands. Yet the 
nearness of the British to Caen threat- 
ened the city, and on 29 June, in order 
to insure retention of it, the Germans 
launched a large-scale counterattack. 
The British dispersed by massed artillery 



23 Montgomery to Eisenhower, M-30, 25 Jun, 
SGS SHAEF File 381, Overlord, I (a) ; Eisenhower 
to Montgomery, 25 Jun, Pogue Files. 

24 Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 94. 



fire what turned out to be un-co-or- 
dinated thrusts. 25 The situation then 
became relatively calm. 

The results of General Montgomery's 
activity were clear in retrospect. He 
had held the eastern flank firmly and 
had continued to keep a great part of 
the German strength on the British 
front. But if this had been General 
Montgomery's basic intention, his ap- 
parent determination to take Caen had 
obscured it. Even General Eisenhower 
seemed bewildered, particularly since 
Montgomery had informed him that the 
British offensive launched on 25 June 
was to be a "blitz attack." 28 

General Montgomery had certainly 
wanted Caen. That he had not secured 
it led to inevitable comparison and con- 
trast of the British and the American 
operations. On 18 June General Mont- 
gomery had given the Americans the 
"immediate task" of seizing Cherbourg 
and the British the "immediate task" of 
capturing Caen. He had quickly changed 
the British task after judging the diffi- 
culties too great for immediate execu- 
tion. The Americans had secured Cher- 
bourg on schedule. 27 

Debate had already arisen over Gen- 
eral Montgomery's intentions, a debate 
that was to grow as time passed. Did 
Montgomery, from the beginning of the 
invasion, plan to attract and contain the 
bulk of the German power to facilitate 
an American advance on the right? Or 
did he develop the plan later as a ration- 
alization for his failure to advance 



25 Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 94, 
97, 101; see below, Ch. II. 

20 Montgomery to Eisenhower, M-30, 25 Jun, 
SHAEF Incoming Msgs. 

27 21 AGp Dirs, M-502 and M-504, 18 and 19 
Jun, Pogue Files; Pogue Intervs. 



16 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



through Caen? Was he more concerned 
with conserving the limited British man- 
power and was his containment of the 
enemy therefore a brilliant expedient 
that emerged from the tactical situation 
in June? 28 The questions were interest- 
ing but irrelevant, for the Germans had 
massed their power opposite the British 
without regard for General Mont- 
gomery's original intentions. 

Whatever Montgomery's intent— 
which was obviously not clear to other 
Allied commanders at the time— the Brit- 
ish seemed to be stalled before Caen. 
Denied access to the desirable terrain 
east of Caen and to the main approaches 
to the Seine and Paris, the Allies 
looked to General Bradley's U.S. First 
Army for operational progress. Thus it 
came about that, although the British 

28 Pogue Intervs; Memo, Eisenhower for Pogue, 
10 Mar 47; 21 AGp CinC Notes, 15 Jun 44; 21 AGp 
Dirs, M-502, 18 Jun, M-505, 30 Jun; Photostatic 
copy of (Jen Montgomery's address, Brief Summary 
of Opn Overlord, 7 Apr 44; Statement concerning 
British manpower strength, no title, n.d., in folder 
labeled CALA Docs, Cables and Dirs, etc. All six 
in Pogue Files. Montgomery, Normandy to the 
Baltic, pp. 21-24; Chester Wilmot, The Struggle 
for Europe (New York: Harper 8c Brothers, 1952) , 
pp. 336-41; Harrison Cross-Channel Attack, p. 181; 
Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 183ft; Omar N. 
Bradley, A Soldier's Story (New York: Henry Holt 
and Company, Inc., 1951) , pp. 325-26. 



sector offered terrain more favorable for 
offensive operations, American troops in 
July were to undertake the unenviable 
task of launching a major attack in the 
Cotentin through terrain ideally suited 
for defense. 

Romans, Franks, Bretons, and Nor- 
mans had fought on the Cotentin, and 
innumerable skirmishes had occurred 
there between the English and the 
French. But since the devastating civil 
wars of religion and revolution, little 
had disturbed the tranquillity and 
prosperity of the inhabitants. Even the 
German occupation had had little effect 
on the habits of people who were mainly 
concerned with the problems of cattle 
breeding and the production of butter 
and cheese. Although they had "prayed 
for an Allied landing," they had "hoped 
that it would take place far from 
them." 29 They were not spared. Where 
megalithic monuments of prehistoric 
times lay beside the remains of medieval 
monasteries, the armies of World War 
II marked the land in their turn, creating 
their own historic ruins to crumble with 
the others. 



2 " Robert Patry, St.-Ld (St. Lo, 1948) , page 14 
of Eugene Turboult's English translation. 



CHAPTER II 

The Enemy 



At the beginning of July 1944, Ger- 
many was the target of military opera- 
tions on four fronts: the Soviet drive in 
the east, the partisan warfare in the 
Balkans, the Allied operations in Italy, 
and the Allied offensive in western 
France. Only in Scandinavia did Ger- 
man military forces enjoy the quiet of a 
relatively static situation. 

Of the four fronts, the Balkan battle- 
field was of minor importance, and the 
Italian sector, where the Germans fought 
a delaying action as they fell back, was 
of secondary significance. The Eastern 
Front, engaging the preponderance of 
German resources, was of most concern 
to the Germans, although the cross-Chan- 
nel attack had posed a more direct threat 
to the homeland, and for a brief time— 
until the Russians launched their sum- 
mer offensive late in June— the Nor- 
mandy front was more important. From 
July on, the Eastern and Western Fronts 
received nearly equal attention from 
those directing the German war effort, 
though far from equal resources. 

Exhausted by almost five years of war, 
its Navy powerless, its Air Force reduced 
to impotence, and able to offer serious 
resistance only on the ground, Germany 
seemed on the verge of defeat. 

The Machinery of War 
Adolf Hitler was directing the war. In 



addition to the responsibility and the 
nominal command borne by all heads of 
states, Hitler exercised a direct control 
over military operations. He deter- 
mined the military strategy on all fronts 
and supervised closely the formulation 
of plans and their execution. Increas- 
ingly, as the struggle continued, he con- 
trolled the tactical operations of the 
troops. This close control of the mil- 
itary was perhaps inevitable. The py- 
ramidal hierarchy of command reached 
its ultimate in him. 

With an active and bold imagination, 
and often displaying an astute grasp of 
military matters, Hitler could co- 
ordinate his military objectives and his 
political goals far better than anyone 
else in Germany. Though by 1944 
Hitler had delegated to others many of 
his governmental functions, he felt that 
he could not afford to do so in the mil- 
itary realm. The urgency of the life and 
death struggle with the Allies, he was 
convinced, compelled him to give his 
personal attention even to relatively 
minor problems, and his self-assumed 
commitments overworked him. 

As head of the state, Hitler bore the 
title of Fuehrer. 1 As such, he was also 



1 The following account is based on: Harrison, 
Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 128ft; Pogue Supreme 
Command, pp. 175ft; James B. Hodgson, The Ger- 
man Defense of Normandy. OCMH MS R-24; Capt. 



18 




Hitler with (from left to right) Gross- 
admiral Erich Raeder and Field 
Marshals Keitel and Goering. 



the Supreme Commander in Chief of the 
Armed Forces— the Oberster BefehUha- 
ber der Deutsche n Wehrmacht. His staff 
was the Armed Forces High Command, 
the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht 
(OKW), headed by Generalfeldmar- 
sclmll Wilhelm Keitel. Theoretically, 
OKW was the highest military echelon 
under Hitler, and to it belonged the 
prerogatives of grand strategy and joint 
operations. On a lower echelon, Reichs- 
marschall Hermann Goering headed the 
Air Force High Command, the Ober- 
kommando der Luftwaffe (OKL); Gross- 



James V. Scoggin, Jr.. ed„ OH WEST, a Study in 
Command, containing MS # (Zimmerman) , 

MS # B-S72 (Buttlar) , MS # B-71B (Speidcl) , 
MS # (Runristedt) , and MS # B-344 (Blu- 

mentrill) , Hist Div, Dept of the Array (German 
Report Series, 3 vols, n.d.) . 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 

admiral Karl Doenitz headed the Navy 
High Command, the Oberkommando 
der Kriegsmarine (OKM); while Hitler 
himself headed the Army High Com- 
mand, the Oberkommando des Heeres 
(OKH). 

In theory, the chief of the OKW, 
Keitel, received the reports and co-or- 
dinated the activities of the OKL, OKM, 
and OKH. But Goering outranked 
Keitel and therefore reported directly to 
Hitler. Doenitz felt that Keitel had 
little interest in and understanding of 
naval matters, and he also reported 
directly to Hitler. Since Hitler himself 
was chief of the OKH, there seemed to 
be no practical need for the OKW. Yet 
hecause the war against the Soviet Union 
required all the attention of the OKH, 
the OKW assumed the direction of the 
other theaters, 2 OKW and OKH were 
tli us reduced to agencies directing the 
ground campaigns and, together with 
OKL and OKM, were directly sub 
ordinate to and dominated by Hitler, the 
Supreme Commander in Chief. 

Although the chain of command was 
unified at the top in the person of Hitler 
and although spheres of activity seemed 
clearly defined among the high com- 
mands, staff functions in actual practice 
were often confused. OKW, for ex- 
ample, had no intelligence section or 
logistical apparatus. For information 
about the enemy and for administration, 
including replacements, it relied on the 
OKH. OKL organized and controlled 
antiaircraft artillery units, Luftwaffe 
field divisions, and paratroopers, which 
in American doctrine were ground force 

2 These included the areas of western Europe, 
Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean. See Harrison, 
Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 133ft. 



THE ENEMY 

units. Competition over such matters 
as replacements caused friction among 
the services. Goering exploited his polit- 
ical power, while Reichsfuehrer Hein- 
rich Himmler complicated the com- 
mand structure because he headed the 
Sckutzstaffel (SS), an elite corps of in- 
fantry and armored units. 3 

Similar inconsistencies appeared in 
the field. Commanders exercised con- 
trol over assigned troops but not over 
strictly defined geographical areas. Ex- 
cept in designated fortress cities, the 
three military services were independent 
branches, expected to co-operate but not 
functionally organized to insure com- 
plete co-ordination of effort. The 
result, perhaps not so surprisingly, re- 
dounded to Hitler's personal advantage. 

In western Europe, Navy Croup West 
was the field command of the OKM, and 
the Third Air Fleet was the field com- 
mand under OKL. The ground force 
field command under the OKW was 
Oberbefehlshaber West (OB WEST), 
and within the limits of the German 
command system it functioned as the 
theater headquarters. Unlike General 
Eisenhower, who in comparison had 
virtual carte blanche for the conduct of 
the war, the German theater commander 
operated under the close personal super- 
vision of Hitler, who directly or through 
the Operations Staff of OKW, the 
Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (WFSt), a 
planning section directed by Generalo- 
berst Alfred Jodl, did not hesitate to 



■ Founded in ig?5 to protect Hitler, the SS 
evolved from a small bodyguard to a vast organiza- 
tion that formed military units called the Wajjen 
SS. Regiments and divisions were gradually organ 
ized from Wafjcn SS battalions. 



19 




General J out- 



point out what he deemed errors of 
judgment and maneuver. 

The theater commander did not con- 
trol the naval and air force contingents in 
his sector. France, Belgium, and the 
Netherlands, though under the nominal 
control of OB WEST, each had a mil- 
itary governor who exercised responsibil- 
ity for internal security of the occupied 
territory; yet for tactical action against 
an invading enemy, OB WEST had 
operational control over the troops as- 
signed to the military governors. OK.W 
maintained direct contact with each mil- 
itary governor and supervised OB WEST 
supply and administration. 

For tactical operations OB WEST 
controlled two army groups. These had 
the mission of defending the Channel 
and Atlantic and the Mediterranean 
coast lines of the OB WEST area. Their 



20 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



zones of operations were the Netherlands 
and Belgium and those French admin- 
istrative and political departments touch- 
ing the sea. The boundary between the 
army groups was an east— west line across 
France from the Loire River to the Swiss 
border near Lake Geneva, although 
there was always a lack of clarity as to 
whether OB WEST or the military gov- 
ernor exercised authori ty over tactical 



troops in central France. (Map 2) 

South of the boundary was the sector 
of Army Group G, a headquarters that 
controlled the First Army, which de- 
fended the Atlantic coast of France south 
of the Loire, and Nineteenth Army, 
which held the Mediterranean shores of 
France. The Replacement Army, which 
trained units in the interior of France, 
furnished troops for security duties 
against the FFI and was ready to under- 
take operations against airborne land- 
ings. 

North of the Loire-Geneva boundary 
line was Army Group B. Under this 
headquarters, LXXXVIII Corps occu- 
pied the Netherlands, Fifteenth Army 
defended the coast of Belgium and of 
northern France to the Seine River, and 
Seventh Army had responsibility for that 
part of northwest France between the 
Seine and the Loire Rivers. 

The chain of command, then, that 
had functioned to meet the Allied inva- 
sion of western Europe consisted of 
Hitler; the OKW, which transmitted 
Hitler's orders; OB WEST, the ground 
force headquarters in the west that 
operated as the theater command; Army 
Group B, which had tactical control of 
the troops along the Channel coast; and 
Seventh Army, which had found itself 
responsible for the area invaded. 



The Changing Strategy 

German strategy in July was rooted 
in the events of June. When the Allies 
landed on the Normandy beaches on 6 
June 1944, the Germans were without 
a firmly enunciated policy of defense. 4 
The OB WEST commander, General- 
feldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, and 
the Army Group B commander, General- 
feldmarschall Erwin Rommel, were in 
vague but basic disagreement on how 
best to meet the expected Allied in- 
vasion. Rundstedt tended to favor 
maintaining a strong strategic reserve 
centrally located, so that after he deter- 
mined the main invasion effort he could 
mass the reserve and destroy the Allies 
before they could reinforce their beach- 
head. Sometimes called the concept of 
mobile defense, this was a normal opera- 
tional technique. Rommel presupposed 
Allied air superiority, and he argued that 
the Germans would be unable to move 
a centrally located reserve to the battle- 
field since the Allies would control the 
air in that area; he believed it necessary 
to defeat the Allied invaders on the 
beaches. Sometimes called the concept 
of static defense, this theory gave im- 
petus to the construction of the Atlantic 
Wall. 5 

Hitler never made a final decision on 
which method of defense he preferred. 
Consequently, neither method was estab- 
lished as a distinct course of action. By 



4 See Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pages 
151-57 and 243-58 for a detailed discussion of the 
changes in German strategic concepts. 

5 See OB WEST, a Study in Command, pages 
49ft. for a description of the divergence in the 
operational views of Rundstedt and Rommel. 




MAP 2 



22 




Field Marshal Rommel 

inference, it appeared that Hitler 
favored defense on the beaches since he 
had charged Rommel with specific 
responsibility for coastal defense even 
though the task might logically have be- 
longed to the theater commander, Rund- 
stedt. Although Rommel was subor- 
dinate to Rundstedt, he thus had a cer- 
tain favored status that tended to under- 
mine the chain of command. This was 
emphasized by the fact that he had direct 
access to Hitler, a privilege of all held 
marshals. 

Despite a lack of cohesion in the com- 
mand structure and an absence of coher- 
ence in defensive planning, the three 
commanders acted in unison when the 
Allies assaulted the beaches. Rommel 
gave battle on the coast, Rundstedt be- 
gan to prepare a counterattack, and 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 

Hitler approved the commitment of 
theater reserves. 

Their actions stemmed from tradi- 
tional German military thought and 
training, which stressed the ideal of de- 
feating an enemy by a decisive act rather 
than by a strategy of gradual and cumu- 
lative attrition. As a consequence, the 
German military leaders, although fight- 
ing essentially a defensive battle, 
searched for a bold counterattack that 
would destroy the Normandy beachhead 
and drive the Allies back into the sea. 
While Rommel fought the tactical battle 
of the beaches, Rundstedt designated a 
special headquarters (which he had or- 
ganized in 1943 to train armored units) 
to plan and launch a counterattack of 
decisive proportions. Under the com- 
mand of the OB WEST armor specialist, 
General der Panzertruppen Leo Frciherr 
Gcyr von Schweppenburg, Panzer Group 
West assumed this function. 7 An Allied 
bomber struck Geyr's headquarters on 
10 June, killed several key members of 
the staff, and obliterated immediate 
German hopes of regaining the initia- 
tive. 

To take the place of Panzer Group 
West, which could not be reorganized 
quickly after the bombing, the Germans 
planned to upgrade the LXXXIV Corps 
headquarters to an intermediate status 
pending its eventual elevation to an 
army headquarters. On 12 June, how- 
ever, its commander, General der Artil- 



° Hcrberl Rosinski, The German Army (Wash- 
in glon: Infantry Journal, Inc., 11)44) ■ ,s "i ff ; Fuehrer 
Uir 40, quoted in transition in Harrison, CfiWJ- 
Channel Attack, App. A. 

'See Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 247, 
348-49, 373-74. The commander of Panzer Group 
West is hereafter referred to as Geyr. 



THE ENEMY 



lerie Erich Marcks, was also killed by an 
Allied bomb. 8 

By raid-June Rommel was inclined to 
believe that the Allies had gained a 
firm foothold in France. 8 Experience 
in Sicily and Italy seemed to indicate 
that when Allied assault troops succeeded 
in digging in on shore, it was very diffi- 
cult to dislodge them. On 12 June Hitler 
appeared to accept the validity of the 
danger, for on that date he recalled an 
SS panzer corps of two SS armored divi- 
sions-about 35,000 men-from the East- 
ern Front and dispatched them with 
highest transportation priority to the 
west. The mission of these units was to 
take part in the vital counterattack that 
was to destroy the Allied beachhead. 

While the SS panzer corps and other 
reinforcements hurried toward Nor- 
mandy, German troops on the Western 
Front were sustaining serious losses. 
Allied air superiority was hampering and 
delaying the movement of German men 
and supplies to the battle area, and 
Allied ground troops were swarming 
ashore with increasing amounts of equip- 
ment. As early as three days after the 
invasion, officers of the OKH intelligence 
section and of the OKW operations staff 
discussed the probable loss of Cher- 
bourg. 10 Five days later, on 14 June, 
Rundstedt and Rommel agreed to leave 
only light German forces in defense of 
the port if the Americans should cut the 
Cherbourg peninsula and isolate the 

"AGp B Telecon, 2115, n Jun, There was some 
talk of having the upgraded corps take respon 
sib ili ty for the entire active front. OB WEST 
KTB, 12 Jun and Anlagen for period. 

■ Romme] to KeLtel, Beitrteilung der Luge am 
ii-6.i<>4ij, 12 Jun. AGp B KTB la Tagesmeldungea; 
OB WEST, a Study in Command, I, 3. 

"Telecon, 1105, 9 jun, Handakte, Chef Abt. 
Fremde Heere West; see MS # B-784 (Criegem) . 




FrEi.R Marshal von Rundstedt 



northern portion of it. Thus, only a 
few troops would be sacrificed in the 
north while the bulk o£ the German 
forces on the peninsula would withdraw 
and form a defensive line near its base to 
oppose an expected American attack to- 
ward the. south. Two days later, on 16 
June, as the field commanders, upon 
learning that the Americans were about 
to cut the peninsula, prepared to put the 
withdrawal plan from Cherbourg into 
effect, OKW transmitted Hitler's refusal 
to permit them to evacuate the port." 

Although Field Marshals Rundstedt 
and Rommel considered a strong and 
costly defense of Cherbourg useless, 
Hitler was not interested in conserving 
several thousand soldiers when he could 
expend them and perhaps keep the Allies 



"Seventh Army KTB, 14 and 16 Jun; AGp B 
KTB, Annex 52a to Anlagc 32; Harrison, Cross- 
Channel Attack, pp. 413-14. 



24 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



from gaining a major port, at least until 
the counterstroke, now planned for 25 
June, was launched. While the master 
counterattack was being prepared to oust 
the Allies from Normandy, Hitler was 
unwilling to yield cheaply what he cor- 
rectly judged to be an important link in 
the projected chain of Allied logistics. 

Despite Hitler's wishes, the defense of 
Cherbourg was disappointing. 12 German 
troop confusion, inadequate provision- 
ing of the fortress, and the vigor of the 
American attack were disheartening to 
the Germans. The field marshals con- 
centrated their efforts on mounting the 
still pending major counterattack, even 
though Hitler continued to recommend 
counterattacks designed to aid the Cher- 
bourg defenders. 18 

Conferring with Hitler at Soissons on 
17 June, the field commanders agreed to 
launch through Bayeux what they all 
hoped would be the decisive counter- 
attack. 14 A reorganized Panzer Group 



12 After capture of the city, the American corps 
commander asked, but the German commander 
(who had been taken prisoner) refused to answer, 
why he had defended the high ground around 
Cherbourg, good outer defensive positions, instead 
of retreating to the better inner ring of forts to 
make his stand. Maj William C. Sylvan, former 
senior aide to Lt Gen Courtney H. Hodges, Deputy 
Comdr, First Army, Personal Diary (hereafter cited 
as Sylvan Diary) , entry of 27 Jun. Major Sylvan 
kept his diary, dealing primarily with General 
Hodges' activities, with the approval of General 
Hodges. A copy is on file in OCMH through 
courtesy of Major Sylvan. 

13 Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 411-12, 
442; AGp B KTB, 17 Jun; OB WEST KTB, 24 Jun, 
Anlage 295, 27 Jun, Anlage 555, and 28 Jun, Anlage 
375; Der Westen (Schramm) ; for a more detailed 
explanation, see Martin Blumenson and James B. 
Hodgson, "Hitler versus his Generals in the West," 
United States Naval Institute Proceedings (Decem- 
ber, 1956) . 

"Ecksparre Min, AGp B KTB, Anlagen, Fall 
1940-Sep 1944, Annex 17; Notes in the Jodl Diary, 



West, under the control of Army Group 
B, was to direct the tactical operation, 
which would now be launched no earlier 
than 5 July. The purpose of the attack 
was to split the Allies on the coast and 
dispose of each separately. 

As tactical plans for the Bayeux of- 
fensive were being readied and troops 
and supplies assembled, the British 
launched their attack toward Caen on 
25 June. 15 Almost at once the local com- 
mander defending Caen judged that he 
would have to evacuate the city. To 
retain Caen the Seventh Army on 26 
June prepared to employ the troops as- 
sembling for the Bayeux offensive, not in 
the planned offensive mission but for 
defensive reasons, to counterattack the 
British. Before the commitment of this 
force, however, the situation eased and 
became somewhat stable. Nevertheless, 
German apprehension over the possibil- 
ity of continued British attacks in the 
Caen sector did not vanish. 

At this time not only the commanders 
in the west but also OKW passed from 
thinking in terms of offensive action to 
an acceptance of a defensive role. 16 "No 
matter how undesirable this may be," 
Rundstedt informed OKW, "it may be- 
come necessary to commit all the new 
forces presently moving up— in an effort 
to stop and smash . . . the British attack 
expected to start shortly southeast from 



17 Jun; Der Westen (Schramm) ; Hans Speidel, 
Invasion 1944 (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 

!95°) . PP- 92-99- 

15 Ltrs, Rommel to Rundstedt, and Speidel to 
OQu West, 21 Jun, AGp B la Operationsbefehle; 
see above, Ch. I. 

10 OB WEST KTB, 25 Jun, Anlage 306. The 
best evidence of the changing attitude is found in 
OB WEST KTB, 26 Jun. 



THE ENEMY 



25 



Caen." 17 So serious had the British 
threat appeared on 25 June that Rund- 
stedt and Rommel fleetingly considered 
withdrawing to a line between Avranches 
and Caen. 18 

By withdrawing to an Avranches-Caen 
line the Germans would have good 
positions from which to hold the Allies 
in Normandy. Yet such an act might 
also be interpreted by higher headquar- 
ters as the first step in a complete with- 
drawal from France. Keitel and Jodl 
had agreed soon after the invasion that 
if the Germans could not prevent the 
Allies from breaking out of their beach- 
head, the war in the west was lost. 19 
The point in question was a definition of 
the term beachhead. Would not a with- 
drawal from the lines already established 
give the Allies the space and maneuver 
room to launch a breakout attempt? 

The alternatives facing the German 
field commanders late in June seemed 
clear: either the Germans should mount 
the Bayeux offensive and attempt to 
destroy the Allied beachhead in a single 
blow, or they should abandon hope of 
offensive action and defend aggressively 
by counterattacking the British near 
Caen. 20 The British, by acting first had 
temporarily nullified the possibility of 
offensive action, and this seemed to crys- 
tallize a growing pessimism among the 
German commanders in the west. 



17 Rundstedt to Jodl, 1800, 26 Jun, OB WEST 
KTB, Anlage 340. 

18 Telecon, Blumentritt to Speidel, 1610, 25 Jun, 
AGp B KTB. 

18 ONI Fuehrer Conferences on Matters Dealing 
With the German Navy (Washington, 1947),. 12 
Jun (also published as Doc 175-C, Trial of the 
Major War Criminals Before the International 
Military Tribunal (Nuremberg, 1949) , XXXIV. 

20 Der Westen (Schramm) . 



Rundstedt had long been convinced 
that if only a defensive attitude were 
possible, it would be hopeless to expect 
ultimate success in the war. 21 Rommel, 
too, became persuaded that the German 
chance of victory was slim. 22 More than 
Rundstedt perhaps, Rommel felt that 
the Allied naval guns employed as long- 
range artillery would prevent the Ger- 
mans from ever regaining the invasion 
beaches, and significantly he had plotted 
the first objectives of the Bayeux attack 
just outside the range of Allied naval 
gun fire. 23 By 15 June Rommel had 
admitted that the front would probably 
have to be "bent out" and Normandy 
given up because the danger of an Allied 
attack toward Paris from Caen was worse 
than a possible threat to Brittany. 24 

Hitler nevertheless remained firm in 
his resolve. Even though Rundstedt in- 
sisted that the focal point was Caen, 
Hitler kept thinking in terms of an 
attack west of the Vire River to save or 
regain Cherbourg. He cared little 
whether the reserves gathered near Caen 
were used for offensive or defensive pur- 
poses. 

Tactical developments in the Caen 
sector bore out the apprehensions of the 
field marshals. There seemed to be no 
alternative but to commit additional 
reserves against the doggedly persistent 
British. The only troops available were 



21 Guenther Blumentritt, Von Rundstedt, the 
Soldier and the Man (London: Odhams Press 
Limited, 1952) , pp. 184, 198; Harrison, Cross-Chan- 
nel Attack, p. 443. 

22 See B. H. Liddell Hart, ed., The Rommel 
Papers (London: Collins, 1953) . 

23 Pz Gp W KTB, Anlagen 10.Vl.-9.VIll.44f 
Annexes 6, 7, and 8. 

24 Telecon, Rommel to Pemsel, 2150, 15 Jun, 
Seventh Army KTB, Anlagen Ferngespraeche und 
Besprechungen, 6— 30. VI. 44. 



26 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



those of the // SS Panzer Corps with- 
drawn from the Eastern Front and slated 
to initiate the Bayeux offensive. The 
corps jumped off on 29 June in an 
attack that, if successful, would disrupt 
the British beachhead, but it was in no 
sense the contemplated decisive master 
blow. 

On that day, 29 June, Rundstedt and 
Rommel were at Berchtesgaden, where 
they listened as Hitler enunciated his 
strategy. 25 Acknowledging that Allied 
air and naval supremacy prevented a 
large-scale German attack for the mo- 
ment, Hitler deemed that, until an attack 
could be launched, the Germans had to 
prevent the development of mobile war- 
fare because of the greater mobility of 
the Allied forces and their supremacy 
in the air. The German ground troops 
must endeavor to build up a front 
designed to seal off the beachhead and 
confine the Allies to Normandy. Tac- 
tics were to consist of small unit actions 
to exhaust the Allies and force them 
back. In the meantime, the German 
Air Force and Navy were to disrupt 
Allied logistics by laying mines and 
attacking shipping. More antiaircraft 
protection against Allied strafing and 
bombing was to permit the German 
Army to regain a freedom of movement 
for troops and supplies that would en- 
able the field forces to launch a decisive 
offensive sometime in the future. 

Thus, the ground troops in Normandy 
were to assume a defensive role tem- 
porarily, while the Air Force and Navy 



26 Wolfram's Min, 1 Jul, in AGp B KTB, Annex 
33; Jodl Diary, 29 Jun; ONI Fuehrer Confs; Der 
Westen (Schramm) ; Harrison, Cross-Channel 
Attack, pp. 445ft. 



tackled the important problems of logis- 
tics and mobility. Goering and Doenitz 
were to hamper Allied logistics and deny 
the Allies mobility; they were to give 
the German ground forces a measure of 
protection for their supply system, there- 
by assuring them a certain degree of 
mobility. Until these missions were 
executed, the ground forces had to hold 
every inch of ground in a stubborn de- 
fense. Unless Hitler could insure for 
his troops at least temporary protection 
from Allied planes, offensive maneuvers 
on a large scale were out of the question. 
Until he could secure a more favorable 
balance of supply, he could not launch 
the decisive action designed to gain a 
conclusive victory. 

Whether or not Hitler believed that 
Goering and Doenitz with the obviously 
inadequate forces at their disposal could 
give him what he wanted, he proceeded 
on the assumption that they might. 

When Rundstedt and Rommel re- 
turned to the west on 30 June, they 
learned that the German counterattack 
north of Caen had bogged down. The 
brief presence, for once, of German 
planes over the battlefield, until dis- 
persed by Allied air forces, had been 
ineffective. The larger situation in 
Normandy resembled an intolerable im- 
passe. While the Allied build-up pro- 
ceeded smoothly, the Germans were hav- 
ing great difficulty reinforcing the battle- 
field; destroyed bridges and railroads 
and Allied air strafing during daylight 
hours made this task nearly impossible. 
With the balance of force in Normandy 
swinging in favor of the Allies, continued 
German defense seemed a precarious 
course of action. Such was the basis on 
which the field marshals now formally 



THE ENEMY 



27 



recommended a limited withdrawal in 
the Caen area. 26 

Hitler refused. To withdraw, even in 
limited fashion, seemed to him to admit 
defeat in Normandy, acknowledgment 
that the Germans had failed against what 
he estimated to be only one third of the 
strength that the Allies would eventually 
be able to put on the Continent. He 
saw that because there were no prepared 
defensive lines in the interior of France, 
no fortified positions that could be oc- 
cupied by withdrawing troops, defeat in 
Normandy meant eventual evacuation 
of France. The only possible place 
where the Germans could resume a de- 
fensive effort would be at the German 
border, and this made necessary rehabil- 
itating and manning the unoccupied 
West Wall, the Siegfried Line. 

Hitler had prohibited the erection of 
fortified lines of defense in France be- 
cause he believed that their presence 
would tend to weaken the front by act- 
ing as a magnet for weary combat troops 
and for what he termed "defeatist" com- 
manders. Furthermore, Hitler appreci- 
ated that, when troops withdrew, per- 
sonnel tended to straggle and abandon 
equipment, actions Germany could ill 
afford. He was also aware that the 
Allies, with their superior mobility, 
would be able to advance more rapidly 
than the Germans could withdraw. Fi- 
nally, he underestimated neither the 
damage to morale a withdrawal would 
occasion nor the ability to harass that 
the FFI and a hostile French population 
possessed. 27 



26 AGp B KTB, 1830, 29 and 30 Jun; Harrison, 
Cross-Channel Attack, p. 446. 

27 ONI Fuehrer Confs, 12 Jun; Harrison, Cross- 
Channel Attack, pp. 411, 412, 447; OB WEST, a 



On the other hand, the German troops 
in Normandy occupied excellent and 
extremely favorable positions for de- 
fense. If the Germans contained the 
Allies and prevented the expansion of 
the beachhead, they would retain 
advantageous ground from which Hitler 
could launch the decisive action that 
could turn the course of the war. And 
yet to remain in Normandy and seek the 
decision there meant the acceptance of 
the risk of losing the entire committed 
force. If the Allies broke through the 
German defenses and developed a war 
of movement, the result would bring 
catastrophe to German hopes. Air 
power and mobility would enable the 
Allies to institute a blitzkrieg. Unlike 
that on the Eastern Front, where tre- 
mendous space cushioned the effect of 
breakthrough, mobile warfare on the 
Western Front was sure to bring the 
Allies quickly to the border of Ger- 
many. 28 

On the afternoon of 1 July Hitler an- 
nounced his position unequivocally and 
declared his willingness to gamble: 
"Present positions are to be held," he 
ordered. "Any further enemy break- 
through is to be hindered by determined 
resistance or by local counterattack. 
The assembly of forces will continue. 

" 29 The Germans were to take advan- 
tage of the terrain, prevent the expan- 
sion of the Allied beachhead, and re- 
main as close to the coast as possible. 

This seemed logical to the OB WEST 
operations officer, who felt that a return 



Study in Command, I, 46-47; Der Westen 
(Schramm) . 

28 Der Westen (Schramm) . 

29 OB WEST la KTB, 1 Jul. 



28 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



to the position warfare tactics of World 
War I was desirable. The Germans 
needed "to build an insurmountable 
barrier in front of the enemy along the 
tactically most adantageous line, from 
which the enemy numerical and materiel 
superiority must be beaten down with 
every conceivable means." If the Ger- 
mans could fight a war of attrition over 
a long period of time, using all the guns 
in their arsenal, antiquated or not, they 
would perhaps be able some time in the 
future to launch a counterattack with 
specially chosen and trained troops to 
inflict a defeat on the Allied forces on 
the Continent. 30 

In complete disagreement, Rundstedt 
called Keitel, chief of the OKW, and 
stated that he did not feel up to the 
increased demands. Whether he meant 
the increased demands placed on him by 
higher headquarters or the increased 
demands of an impossible situation was 
perhaps a deliberate ambiguity. 31 Read- 
ing Rundstedt's message as a request for 
relief, as an admission of defeat, or sim- 
ply as an expression of disagreement, 
Hitler relieved his commander in chief 
in the west on 2 July. Two days later, 
Hitler also relieved Geyr, the command- 
er of Panzer Group West, who had had 
the temerity to initiate a report crit- 
icizing the "tactical patchwork" in the 
west— a report endorsed and transmitted 
up the chain of command to Hitler. 32 
Of the field commanders who had met 



30 "la Notitz fuer Chef," 1 Jul, OB WEST KTB, 
Anlage 415. 

81 Taetigkeitsberichte des Chefs des Heeresper- 
sonalamtes, 1 Jul; Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, 
pp. 446-47. OB WEST KTB, 3 July, clearly states 
that Rundstedt requested relief for reasons of health 
and age. This contrasts with his later denials of 
ever having requested relief. 



the Allied invasion three weeks before, 
only Rommel remained in command, 
and even he had supposedly asked Hitler 
at Berchtesgaden how he still expected 
to win the war. 83 

Hitler was not impressed with the pro- 
fessional abilities of his senior officers in 
the west. The Germans had failed in 
June. The Allies had established a firm 
beachhead in Normandy. Cherbourg 
had fallen. A major German counter- 
offensive had failed to materialize. A 
fresh armored corps had been committed 
with no apparent result. 

The Germans had massed troops for 
a decisive counterattack that did not 
get started. When the German frame 
of reference changed from an offensive 
to a defensive cast, it seemed fortunate 
to find the bulk of the German strength 
in Normandy opposite the British. For 
the Caen sector appeared to lead directly 
to Paris, and that was where the Ger- 
mans figured the Allies intended to go. 

As the German ground action became 
defensive in character, Hitler placed his 
main reliance on air and naval effort and 
hoped that Goering and Doenitz would 
correct the balance of power then un- 
favorable to the Germans. Until this 
occurred, the German ground troops 
were to hold fast and preserve a vital 
condition— a restricted Allied beach- 
head—for the offensive action that was 
eventually to "throw the Anglo-Saxons 
out of Normandy." 34 



32 Der Westen (Schramm) ; Rommel to Rund- 
stedt, 2400, 30 Jun, AGp B la Operationsbefehle; 
Pz Gp W KTB, Anlagen, Annex 33a; Harrison, 
Cross-Channel Attack, p. 445, n.88o. Headquarters 
have been personalized as much as possible in the 
citations in the interest of brevity. 

33 Liddell Hart, The Rommel Papers, pp. 480-81. 

si Handakte Chef Abt. Fremde Heere West, Jun. 



THE ENEMY 



29 



Tactical Dispositions 

While the higher commands were pre- 
occupied with offensive planning, the 
tactical units facing the Allies were oc- 
cupied with the practical necessity of 
fighting a defensive war. 

When the Allies landed in France, the 
German Seventh Army controlled Nor- 
mandy and Brittany from the Orne River 
to the Loire. Commanded since Sep- 
tember 1939 by Generaloberst Friedrich 
Dollman, who had led it to victory over 
the French in 1940, the army had its 
headquarters in comfortable buildings 
at le Mans. The long peacetime occu- 
pation duty had apparently dulled the 
headquarters' capacities, for even after 
the invasion it seemed to carry on busi- 
ness as usual. Subordinate commands 
complained of its bureaucracy in han- 
dling supplies, while higher headquar- 
ters sometimes felt a lack of personal 
initiative among its members. 35 

Doubts as to the efficiency of the 
Seventh Army headquarters had led to 
discussion of relieving the army of re- 
sponsibility for the Normandy battle- 
field and of relegating it to Brittany. 
The commitment of Panzer Group West 
and the plan to upgrade a corps were 
attempts to replace the Seventh Army 
command, but because of the destruc- 
tion of the Panzer Group West head- 
quarters and the death of General 
Marcks, both by Allied bombings, the 
Seventh Army at the end of June still 
dire cted combat operations. 36 (See Map 

[Z3 

35 AGp B KTB, 12, 13, 28 Jun; Interv by Hodgson 
with former Generalmajor a.D. Rudolf-Christoph 
Freiherr von Gersdorff, Seventh Army Chief of 
Staff, Washington, 28 Jul 53, OCMH Files. 

36 AGp B KTB, 12 Jun; OB WEST, Anlage 101, 



By then the task had become exceed- 
ingly complicated. From one corps in 
contact with the Allies at the time of the 
invasion, the subordinate headquarters 
in contact and under the Seventh Army 
had increased to six. Initially, the 
LXXXIV Corps, commanded by Marcks, 
had met the Allies. The / SS Panzer 
Corps, under General der Panzertruppen 
Josef Dietrich, had moved forward from 
the OKW reserve to assume on 8 June a 
portion of the front near Caen. Several 
days later the // Parachute Corps, under 
General der Fallschirmtruppen Eugen 
Meindl, had traveled from Brittany to 
the St. L6 sector. On 13 June the 
XLVII Panzer Corps, commanded by 
General der Panzertruppen Hans Frei- 
herr von Funck, had come forward from 
the Army Group B reserve to the vicinity 
of Caumont. In midmonth, General der 
Infanterie Hans von Obstfelder had 
moved his LXXXVI Corps from the Bay 
of Biscay to take the front between Caen 
and the Seine River. The // SS Panzer 
Corps, commanded by Generaloberst 
Paul Hausser, had arrived in the Caen 
sector near the end of the month after 
having been recalled from the Eastern 
Front. 37 

These seemed too many corps for one 
army to handle. Consequently, on 28 
June the Germans divided the Nor- 
mandy front into what amounted to two 
army sectors. On that date Panzer 
Group West took control of the four 
corps on the right, while Seventh Army 



12 Jun. 

37 James B. Hodgson, The Germans on the Nor- 
mandy Front, 1 July 1944, OCMH MS R-49; see 
also James B. Hodgson, Command and Staff Roster, 
Western Command, June to September 1944, MS 
R-24a. 



30 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



retained control of the two on the left. 38 
The boundary lay just west of Caumont 
and almost corresponded with the 
boundary that separated the British and 
American fronts. On 1 July the corps 
that faced the Allies lined up from east to 
west in the following order: LXXXVI, 

I SS Panzer, II SS Panzer, XLVII Panzer, 

II Parachute, and LXXXIV. 

Each of the two sectors facing the 
Allies at the beginning of July had about 
35,000 combat troops in the line, but 
there was a great difference in tactical 
strength because of armament. 39 Panzer 
Group West, opposite the British, had 
approximately 250 medium and 150 
heavy serviceable tanks, the latter in- 
cluding quite a few Tigers and King 
Tigers. 40 Opposite the Americans the 
Seventh Army, in contrast, had only 50 
mediums and 26 heavy Panthers. 41 Of 
antiaircraft artillery in Normandy, Pan- 
zer Group West controlled the deadly 
dual-purpose guns of the /// Flak Corps 
and had at least three times the quantity 
of the other antiaircraft weapons pos- 
sessed by the Seventh Army. It had all 
three rocket projector brigades available 
in the west— the Nebelwerfer, which fired 
the "screaming meemies." It also had 
the preponderance of artillery. 42 



38 Seventh Army exercised operational control 
over Panzer Group West until 1 July, when Panzer 
Group West came directly under OB WEST. Until 
5 July Panzer Group West depended on the Seventh 
Army for supply; on 6 August Panzer Group West 
became the Fifth Panzer Army. 

39 See detailed estimated totals in Hodgson, 
R-49. 

40 For the characteristics of the German tanks, 
see below, Chapter III. 

41 OKH Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen 
Zustandsberichte, SS-Verbaende, XII.43-VII.44. 

42 Ltr, I6/Stoart/Ia #3748/44, 21 Jun, AGp B la 
Opns. Befehle; MS # B-597 (Pickert) ; see Hodgson, 
R-24. 



The imbalance of strength evolved 
from the nature of the battlefield ter- 
rain. In the western sector, where the 
Americans operated, the hedgerowed 
lowlands inhibited massed armor action 
and were ideal for defense. In the east- 
ern sector, facing the British, the ter- 
rain was favorable for armored ma- 
neuver. Having hoped to launch a major 
counterattack in June, the Germans had 
concentrated the bulk of their offensive 
power there. At the end of the month, 
when the Germans were passing from an 
offensive to a defensive concept in Nor- 
mandy, the presence of stronger forces 
on the eastern sector seemed fortuitous to 
them since Caen blocked the route to 
Paris. 43 

Hitler expected the Allies to make 
the capture of Paris their principal 
objective. He figured that the British 
Second Army would carry the main 
weight of the attack, while the U.S. First 
Army would protect the open flank. In 
this belief, he anticipated that the Allies 
would try to gain control of the middle 
reaches of the Orne River as a line of 
departure. From there he expected 
British forces totaling twenty or twenty- 
two divisions to strike toward Paris and 
to seek to meet and defeat the German 
Army in open battle west of the Seine. 44 

In order to forestall the anticipated 
action, the Germans planned to with- 
draw the armored divisions— all of which 
were under Panzer Group West— from 
front-line commitment and replace them 

43 OB WEST KTB, 25 and 26 Jun, and Anlagen 
315 and 340. 

44 Estimate of Allied Capabilities and Intentions, 
Sitrep for 30 Jun, dated 1 Jul, OKW/WFSt, 
Lageberichte, j-y.VII.44; Hitler Ltr of Instr, 8 Jul, 
quoted in full in OB WEST Ltr of Instr, 8 Jul, 
AGp B Fuehrerbefehle; OB WEST, a Study in 
Command, I, 38. 



THE ENEMY 



31 



with infantry. On 1 July some 35,000 
combat infantrymen were moving toward 
the front to make this substitution. 
When the infantrymen eventually sup- 
planted the armor in defensive positions 
during the month of July, Army Group 
B hoped to have two army sectors nearly 
equally manned. Nine armored divi- 
sions, most relieved by the infantry, 
would be in immediate reserve. 45 

To obtain this hoped-for disposition, 
the Germans had reinforced the battle 
area in Normandy by virtually depleting 
by 1 July their reserves in the west. The 
First Parachute Army, under OKL con- 
trol, was only a small headquarters the- 
oretically performing an infantry train- 
ing mission in the interior of France 
and could, in extreme emergency, be 
counted as a reserve force. OKW con- 
trolled only one parachute regiment; 
OB WEST had no units in reserve. 
Army Group B had an armored division 
and an armored regiment still uncom- 
mitted. The Seventh Army had not yet 
committed one SS panzer division and 
one parachute division. Panzer Group 
West had nothing in reserve. 46 

To get troops to the battlefield in Nor- 
mandy, the Seventh Army had stripped 
its forces in Brittany of four divi- 
sions and two regiments, and a fifth divi- 
sion was to come forward early in July. 47 
The commander of the Netherlands 
forces had furnished one division. Army 
Group G had contributed from its rela- 

45 See James B. Hodgson, "Counting Combat 
Noses," Combat Forces Journal (September, 1954) , 
pp. 45-46, for a definition and explanation of Ger- 
man combat effectives. 

40 Hodgson, R-24, Order of Battle, 6 Jun and 3 
Jul, Apps. D and F; MS # P-154. 

47 James B. Hodgson, German Troops Withdrawn 
from Brittany, 6 June to 15 July 1944, OCMH MS 
R-34- 



tively meager forces in southern France 
six divisions— four infantry, one panzer 
grenadier, and one armored— all under 
orders or marching toward Normandy at 
the end of June. 

Only the Fifteenth Army remained 
untouched. The few divisions it had 
sent to Normandy had been replaced by 
units brought from Norway and Den- 
mark. At the beginning of July the 
Fifteenth Army, deployed between the 
Seine and the Schelde, still had seven 
divisions under direct control and 
directed four subordinate corps that 
controlled eleven additional divisions. 

The Germans had refused to divert 
this strong force into Normandy because 
they expected a second Allied invasion 
of the Continent in that area. German 
estimates throughout June had consid- 
ered an Allied invasion of the Pas-de- 
Calais— the Kanalkueste—a strong possi- 
bility. 48 They were convinced that 
launching sites of a new weapon— the 
V-i— on the coast of northern France 
and Belgium constituted a challenge the 
Allies could not ignore. The Pas-de- 
Calais was the section of continental 
Europe nearest to England, and an Al- 
lied assault there could be supplied most 
easily and supported by air without in- 
terruption. The fact that this Channel 
coast area also offered the shortest route 
to the Rhine and the Ruhr was not ig- 
nored. 49 

48 The term Pas-de-Calais is here and hereafter 
used in the loose sense as designating the coast line 
between the Somme River and Gravelines (near 
Dunkerque) . See Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, 
p. 450. 

49 Hitler Ltr of Instr, 8 Jul, cited n. 44; OB 
WEST, a Study in Command, I 37; JIC (44) 276 
(O) (Final) and JIC (44) 287 (O) (Final) , Ger- 
man Appreciation of Allied Intentions in the West, 
26 Jun and 3 Jul, Pogue Files. For the V-i, see 
below, p. 34. 



32 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



The Germans expected an Allied in- 
vasion of the Pas-de-Calais because they 
believed that the Allied divisions still 
in the United Kingdom belonged to 
"Army Group Patton." They specu- 
lated that the future mission of these 
troops was an invasion of the Continent 
in the Pas-de-Calais area, this despite the 
fact that German intelligence rated the 
troops as capable of only a diversionary 
effort. 50 

"Army Group Patton" was in reality 
an Allied decoy, a gigantic hoax designed 
to convince the Germans that Overlord 
was only part of a larger invasion effort. 
Practiced under the provisions of Oper- 
ation Fortitude, the Allied deception 
was effective throughout June and most 
of July. Naval demonstrations off the 
Channel coast, false messages intercepted 
and reported by German intelligence, 
and other signs of impending coastal as- 
sault kept the Germans in a continual 
state of alert and alarm and immobilized 
the considerable force of the Fifteenth 
Army. 51 

That Operation Fortitude was a 
powerful deterrent to committing the 
Fifteenth Army in Normandy was clearly 
illustrated by the fact that casualties 
among troops in contact with the Allies, 
which mounted alarmingly, were not 
promptly replaced. By the beginning 
of July, casualties were outnumbering 
individual replacements. Yet other fac- 
tors also accounted for the growing short- 



60 OKW/WFSt Sitreps. 1-7 Jul; Harrison, Cross- 
Channel Attack, pp. 464-67; see Lt. David Garth, 
The Battle for Normandy, pp. 10-12, MS, OCMH; 
Lagebeurteilung OB WEST to OKW/WFSt, 1600, 
3 Jul, OB WEST KTB and Anlage 452. 

sl Der Westen (Schramm), 48-49; OKW/WFSt 
Sitrep, 30 Jun; OB WEST KTB, 2, 5, 7, and 8 
Jul, and Anlage 423; Pogue, Supreme Command, 
p. 180. 



age of manpower on the Western Front, 
among them a complicated replacement 
system and difficulties of transportation. 

German ground units on the Western 
Front consisted of a variety of types. 
The regular Infantry division, with be- 
tween 10,000 and 12,500 men, had six 
battalions of infantry organized into 
either two or three regiments. The 
specialized static division of about 
10,000 men, basically a fortress unit de- 
signed to defend specific coastal sectors, 
had a large proportion of fixed weapons, 
little organic transportation, no recon- 
naissance elements, and few engineers. 
The panzer grenadier division, 14,000 
strong, was a motorized unit with one 
tank battalion and two infantry regi- 
ments of three battalions each. The 
armored division, with 14,000 troops, 
had two tank battalions; its armored 
infantrymen were organized into two 
regiments of two battalions each. The 
SS panzer division, with 17,000 men, 
had two tank battalions and two regi- 
ments of armored infantry of three bat- 
talions each. The Luftwaffe also had 
ground units because German industry 
could not manufacture enough planes 
for the manpower allocated and because 
Goering had ambitions to have a land 
army of his own. There were two types 
of Luftwaffe ground units, both some- 
what weaker in fire power than the reg- 
ular Infantry division. The parachute 
division had 16,000 paratroopers who 
were in reality infantrymen; the units 
accepted only volunteers who received 
thorough infantry training. The Luft- 
waffe field division, about 12,500 men, 
contained miscellaneous surplus person- 
nel from the antiaircraft artillery, from 
air signal units, from aircraft mainte- 
nance crews, from administrative units, 



THE ENEMY 



33 



and a certain number of recruits and 
foreigners. 52 

To replace combat losses in the vari- 
ous units in the face of competition be- 
tween Himmler and Goering for the 
limited German manpower was no easy 
task. In late 1942 the Germans had 
set up training, or reserve, divisions de- 
signed to furnish replacements for units 
in combat. Originally these divisions 
had had an occupation role, which had 
not impaired their training function, 
but later they became garrison troops, 
and when occupying coastal sectors they 
were upgraded to field divisions. Thus, 
instead of existing for the purpose of 
supplying replacements to the combat 
forces, they were themselves eventually 
in need of replacements. 53 

Although diversity of units, competi- 
tion between services, and a defective re- 
placement system prevented the Ger- 
mans from maintaining combat forma- 
tions at authorized strengths, the difficul- 
ties of transportation comprised the most 
important reason for manpower short- 
ages on the front. By the end of June, 
when the railroads were badly damaged 
by Allied air atttack and all the Seine 
River bridges except those at Paris had 



52 Behind the front the Organization Todt, a 
paramilitary formation of German and foreign 
laborers, both hired and impressed, was an auxiliary 
construction force. Formed in 1938 to build the 
West Wall, Todt helped Army engineers repair 
roads, build bridges, and construct fortifications. 
Order of Battle Annex 9, Semi-Mil Servs, XV Corps 
G-2 Per Rpt 25, 28 Aug. 

53 WD TM-E 30-451, Handbook on German 
Military Forces (Washington, 15 March 1945) ; 
SHAEF Intel Notes of 24 Aug 44, German Replace- 
ments to the Normandy Battle Area, FUSA G-2 Jnl 
and File; Order of Battle Annex 2, 17 Luftwaffen 
Feld Division (Air Force Field Div) , 18 Aug, XV 
Corps G-2 Per Rpt 16, 19 Aug. 



been destroyed, barges moving on the 
Seine from Paris to Elbeuf and an 
eighty-mile overland route for trucks 
and horse-drawn wagons from Elbeuf 
to Caen formed perhaps the most de- 
pendable line of communications. All 
highways and other supply routes were 
overcrowded and in constant danger of 
Allied air attacks during daylight hours. 
Units traveling to reinforce the front 
had to move in several echelons, reload 
several times en route, and march a good 
part of the way on foot, mostly at night. 

Transportation difficulties also created 
supply and equipment shortages. At 
the beginning of July, the deficit in fuel 
amounted to over 200,000 gallons per 
day. Of daily requirements figured at 
1,000 tons of ammunition, 1,000 tons of 
fuel, and 250 tons of rations, only about 
400 tons of all classes of supply could be 
brought to the front. 54 That the quar- 
termaster general of the west had to bor- 
row fifteen machine guns from the mili- 
tary governor of France in order to fill 
a request from the Cherbourg garrison 
illustrated into what straits German sup- 
ply had fallen. 55 For lack of depend- 
able and long-distance railroad routes, 
armored divisions wore out valuable 
equipment on the highways before get- 
ting to the combat area. The major 
highways to Normandy were littered 
with wrecked vehicles. Movement was 
possible only during darkness, and that 
at a snail's pace. 56 

Conspicuous by their absence from 
the battlefield were the planes of the 
Third Air Fleet. German ground 
troops grimly joked that Allied aircraft 



54 Hodgson, R-24. 

65 075 WEST OQu WEST KTB, 21 and 24 Jun. 
56 OB WEST, A Study in Command, I, giff. 



34 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



were painted silver, while German planes 
in contrast were colorless and invisible: 
"In the West they say the planes are in 
the East, in the East they say they're in 
the West, and at home they say they're 
at the front." Of an authorized 500 
aircraft in the west, the Germans had 
about 300 planes, of which only about 
90 bombers and 70 fighters could get off 
the ground at any one time because of 
shortages of spare parts and fuel. This 
small number could not challenge the 
Allied air supremacy. 57 

By July there was, however, a new 
weapon in operation that gave the Ger- 
mans hope of redressing their discour- 
aging situation. Air missiles called the 
V— 1 (originally after Versuchmuster, 
meaning experimental model, later 
Vergeltungswaffe, translated vengeance 
weapon) and launched for the most part 
from the Pas-de-Calais area had on 13 
June begun to fall on England in a cam- 
paign that was to last eighty days. Ad- 
mittedly a terror agent directed at the 
civilian population, the V-i's were in- 
tended as a reprisal for Allied air at- 
tacks on German cities. The campaign 
reached its greatest intensity during the 
seven-day period ending 8 July, when a 
total of 820 missiles were counted ap- 
proaching the English coast. The Ger- 
mans soon began to launch some V-i's 
from medium bombers. Though they 
were not to appear until early Septem- 
ber, the Allies learned in July that V-2 
weapons, supersonic rockets deadlier 
than the V-i's, were almost ready for 
operational use. 

Allied bombers had since 1943 been 
attacking V-weapon installations, par- 
ticularly those diagnosed as ground 

57 MS #0-017 (Speidel) . 



launching sites. Despite air force pro- 
tests that the bombardment (Operation 
Crossbow) diverted planes from their 
primary offensive mission, and despite 
the fact that air bombardment of the 
sites was an inadequate defense against 
the reality of the V-i attack and the po- 
tentiality of the V-2, General Eisen- 
hower on 29 June ordered the air attacks 
to "continue to receive top priority." 
Without effective defenses to combat 
either the V-i or the V-2, the Allies 
could only hope that ground forces on 
the Continent would soon overrun the 
launching sites. Though the guided 
missile attacks caused widespread death 
and destruction in England, they had no 
effect on Allied tactical or logistical op- 
erations. Yet in late June and early 
July the V-i's and the V-2's were a 
"threat of the first magnitude" to the 
Allied command, for "no member of the 
Allied forces, at any level, knew exactly 
what the new German weapons might 
accomplish." 58 

Though many difficulties and disad- 
vantages faced the German ground sol- 
diers, morale was generally high. Dis- 



58 Royce L. Thompson, Military Impact of the 
German V-weapons, 1943-1945, MS, OCMH; Lt Col 
Melvin C. Heifers, The Employment of V-weapons 
by the Germans during World War II, OCMH 
Monograph; Magna Bauer, The German With- 
drawal From the Ardennes (May 1955) , R-59; 
Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., 
The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. Ill, 
Europe: Argument to V-E Day (Chicago: The Uni- 
versity of Chicago Press, 1951) (hereafter cited as 
AAF III), p. XXV, Chs. IV and XV; Eisenhower, 
Crusade in Europe, pp. 259-60; SGS SHAEF File 
381, Crossbow. Allied concern over German jet- 
propelled planes, another new development, 
prompted warnings to the ground forces that any 
jet aircraft that were shot down were to be guarded 
so that AEAF personnel could make a technical 
examination of the remains. VII Corps Opns Memo 
36, 13 Jul. 



THE ENEMY 



35 



cipline continued to be an effective co- 
hesive power. Leadership, though of- 
ten not entirely unified at the higher 
echelons of command, was excellent at 
the combat levels. Career and reserve 
officers and men, as well as conscripted 
personnel, professed to be uninterested 
in politics and concerned only with per- 
forming their duty. SS officers and non- 
commissioned leaders were hard-bitten 
Nazis who were literal minded about 
their pledge to fight until they died. 



Paratroopers were excellent soldiers. 
Only the volunteer foreign troops serv- 
ing with German units were undepend- 
able under fire, and they constituted but 
a small part of the entire German force. 

Despite complaints of impotence due 
to Allied air superiority, despite a short- 
age of replacements and supplies, despite 
the harassing operations of the FFI that 
slowed the movement of reserves to the 
battlefield, the Germans in the west had 
yet to be beaten. 



CHAPTER III 

The Situation 



American 

General Bradley was responsible for 
the conduct of American operations in 
Normandy. His mild and modest man- 
ner might easily have led those who did 
not know him to underestimate his 
qualities as a commander in combat. 
But General Eisenhower judged that he 
had "brains, a fine capacity for leader- 
ship, and a thorough understanding of 
the requirements of modern battle." 1 
General Bradley was to prove more than 
equal to his tasks. 

During most of his early career Gen- 
eral Bradley had alternated between as- 
signments at the U.S. Military Academy 
and the Infantry School, both as student 
and instructor. After Pearl Harbor, as 
a division commander, he directed in 
turn the training activities of two di- 
visions. He received his first overseas 
assignment as deputy commander of 
General Patton's II Corps, in North 
Africa. When General Patton relin- 
quished the corps command in order to 
form the Seventh U.S. Army headquar- 
ters for the invasion of Sicily, General 
Bradley became the corps commander 
for the remainder of the North African 



1 Ltr, Gen Eisenhower to General George C. 
Marshall, 24 Aug 43, as quoted in parchmented MS 
by Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, Ch. 
I, p. 73, OCMH Files. 



campaign and the operations in Sicily. 
In the fall of 1943 he was called to Eng- 
land to command both the U.S. 1st 
Army Group and U.S. First Army. As 
commander of the 1st Army Group, 
General Bradley supervised the planning 
of the U.S. ground units that were to 
participate in Overlord. 2 As com- 
mander of the First Army, he directed 
the American elements in the invasion 
assault. 3 Under the control of General 
Montgomery, temporarily the Allied 
ground commander, General Bradley, as 
the senior American field commander on 
the Continent, enjoyed a far wider lati- 
tude of action than would normally 
have been granted him had he been di- 
rectly under an American commander. 4 
The land force that General Bradley 
commanded at the beginning of July 
consisted of four corps headquarters and 
thirteen divisions— nine infantry, two 
armored, and two airborne. Not all the 
units had been tested and proved by 



2 12th AGp AAR, 1, 5. 

3 The First Army staff assisting General Bradley 
on the Continent was formed about a nucleus of 
veterans. One tenth o£ the headquarters officers, 
over 30 individuals, had had combat experience in 
the Mediterranean. Maj. Gen. William B. Kean, 
the chief of staff, Col. Joseph J. O'Hare, the G-i, 
Col. Benjamin A. Dickson, the G-2, Col. Truman 
C. Thorson, the G-3, and Col. Robert W. Wilson, 
the G-4, belonged in this category. First U.S. 
Army, Report of Operations, I 14-15. 

4 Bradley, Soldier's Story, pp. 209-10, 350. 



THE SITUATION 



37 



combat, but except for one armored and 
two infantry divisions all had had some 
battle experience during June. Sched- 
uled to lose both airborne divisions in 
the near future, General Bradley mo- 
mentarily expected the arrival of two 
additional infantry divisions and soon 
thereafter several armored divisions. 

Even while the focus of the U.S. First 
Army effort had been directed north 
toward Cherbourg in June, General 
Bradley had tried to get an American 
attack to the south started. General 
Montgomery had urged him not to wait 
until Cherbourg fell before extending 
his operations southward toward la Haye- 
du-Puits and Coutances. General Eisen- 
hower had reminded Bradley to "rush 
the preparations for the attack to the 
south with all possible speed," before 
the Germans could rally and seal off the 
First Army in the Cotentin. 5 

The attack had depended on the ar- 
rival in France of the VIII Corps, a 
headquarters assigned to the U.S. Third 
Army but attached temporarily to the 
First. Operational on the Continent on 
15 June, the VIII Corps had assumed 
control of those forces holding a line 
across the base of the Cotentin Peninsula 
and had protected the rear area of the 
troops driving toward Cherbourg. Gen- 
eral Bradley had instructed the VIII 
Corps commander to attack to the south 
on 22 June, but the Channel storm of 
19—21 June disrupted logistical opera- 
tions and caused a temporary shortage 
of artillery ammunition. Because the 
Cherbourg operation and the attack to 
the south could not be supported simul- 



5 21 AGp Dir, M-504, 19 Jun, Pogue Files; Ltr, 
Eisenhower to Bradley, 25 Jun, FUSA G-g Jnl File. 



taneously, the VIII Corps offensive was 
postponed. 6 

On the day that Cherbourg fell— 26 
June— General Bradley had again di- 
rected the advance south toward Cou- 
tances, this time to begin on or about 
1 July, VIII Corps moving out first and 
the other corps following on army order. 
Once more the operation had to be de- 
layed because tactical regrouping and 
logistical arrangements were not com- 
pleted in time. 7 

On the last day of June General Brad- 
ley received from General Montgomery 
the formal instructions that were to gov- 
ern his action in July. Montgomery 
took his cue from the Neptune plan, 
which had projected a wheeling move- 
ment, as opposed to a north-south axis 
of advance in the Overlord plan, and 
directed the U.S. First Army to pivot 
on its left in the Caumont area. Wheel- 
ing south and east in a wide turn, the 
First Army was to find itself, upon com- 
pletion of the maneuver, facing east 
along a north-south line from Caumont, 
through Vire and Mortain, to Fougeres, 
its right flank near the entrance into 
Brittany. At this point in the opera- 
tions General Patton's Third U.S. Army 
was to become operational and move 
south and west to seize Brittany, while 
the First Army, in conjunction with the 
British and Canadian forces on the left, 
was to advance east toward the Seine 
and Paris. Desiring "drive and energy," 
General Montgomery wanted General 



First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 82; 
VIII Corps AAR, Jul; Montgomery to Eisenhower, 
M-jo, 25 Jun, SGS SHAEF File 381, Opn Overlord, 
I (a) ; Bradley, A Soldier's Story, pp. 303-04. 

7 FUSA FO 1, 26 Jun; First U.S. Army, Report of 
Operations I, 82. 



38 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Bradley, once started, to continue with- 
out pause. 8 

General Bradley's revised and final 
order disclosed his intention to accom- 
plish his mission in several phases. He 
named the Coutances-Caumont line as 
the immediate objective of the First 
Army attack that was to start on 3 July. 
The main effort was to be made in the 
Cotentin. 9 

Not all of the U.S. troops were in the 
Cotentin. In the left portion of the 
army sector, east of the Vire River, 
Americans lightly held a salient in bo- 
cage terrain, where the small hills, while 
not particularly favorable for offensive 
action, were not discouragingly adverse. 
Since the middle of June, while the 
major portion of the American strength 
had been operating against Cherbourg 
on the army right, the troops near St. 
L6 and Caumont had remained inactive 
because General Bradley had been un- 
willing to divert to them resources 
needed for the drive on Cherbourg, and 
because offensive activity on the left 
could have extended the salient and per- 
haps opened a gap between the American 
and the British forces. 10 It was this lat- 
ter factor that prompted General Brad- 
ley to initiate the attack to the south 
across the dam p spongy grou nd of the 



Carentan plain. (See Map I.) 



At the conclusion ot the attack on the 
right, and with his troops holding the 
Coutances-St. L6-Caumont line, Gen- 
eral Bradley would have his entire army 
on firm dry ground, terrain suitable for 
offense by mechanized forces. At that 



time, as the elements on both sides of 
the Vire River would be on similar ter- 
rain, he would be able to deliver an at- 
tack with equal effectiveness from either 
his left or his right. Then he would 
be ready to begin another operation in 
further compliance with General Mont- 
gomery's directive to wheel on his left 
to the Fougeres-Mortain-Vire-Caumont 
line. But first Bradley had to move the 
forces on his right across the waterlogged 
area west of Carentan. 

This swampy terrain was a natural 
position for defense. There, in 1540, 
the French had established a line and 
had endeavored to prevent the Germans 
from capturing Cherbourg. In 1944 
the Germans were holding approxi- 
mately the same positions they had oc- 
cupied four years earlier, but this time 
they were on the defensive. 11 The area 
was excellent for defense because of the 
prairies marecageuses. Large marshes 
sometimes below sea level, the prairies 
appear to be ancient arms of the sea, land 
partially reclaimed from the ocean. 
Open spaces that seem absolutely flat, 
they are breaks in the hedgerow country 
providing long vistas across desolate 
bogs. 

There are five of these large swamps 
on the Carentan plain. Four are lo- 
cated along rivers draining into the Ca- 
rentan bay— the Merderet, the Douve, 
the Taute, and the Vire. The river 
beds are so close to sea level that the 
water does not flow at a discernible rate 
of speed but rather oozes toward the 
ocean; often the streams appear stag- 
nant. The fifth marsh or bog, called 



8 21 AGp Dir, M-505, 30 Jun, Pogue Files. 
"FUSA FO 1 (rev), 1 Jul. 

10 See Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 374, 
376-77; First U.S. Army Report of Operations, I, 
72-73. 



11 See Jacques Mordal, "La Defense de Cher- 
bourg," La Revue Maritime, New Series No. 76 
(August, 1952), 963-80. 



THE SITUATION 



39 



the Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges, is 
about twelve square miles in size and 
lies southwest of Carentan. These ma- 
jor swamps and many smaller marshes 
comprise nearly half the area of the 
Carentan plain. 

From the height of an adjacent hill 
the prairies seem at first glance to be 
pastureland, though the grass is neither 
bright nor lush. A base of brown dims 
the lustre of the vegetation like a blight. 
This is peat, semicarbonized vegetable 
tissue formed by partial decomposition 
in water, plant masses varying in con- 
sistency from turf to slime. Impassable 
in the winter when rain and snow turn 
them into shallow ponds, the prairies 
in the summer are forage ground for 
cattle. Because the land is treacher- 
ously moist and soft, crossing the bogs 
on foot is hazardous, passage by vehicle 
impossible. In addition to numerous 
streams and springs that keep the earth 
soggy, mudholes and stagnant pools, as 
well as a network of canals and ditches, 
some intended for drainage and others 
originally primitive routes of transpor- 
tation, close the marshland to wheeled 
traffic except over tarred causeways that 
link settlements together. 

Adjacent to the marshes and compris- 
ing the other half of the Carentan plain 
is hedgerowed lowland suitable for farm- 
ing. Barely above the level of the 
swamps, the lowland frequently appears 
to consist of "islands" or "peninsulas," 
wholly or partially surrounded by 
marshland. 

Because swamps comprise so much of 
the region, the arable land is divided 
into tiny fragments of ownership. Since 
the fields are smaller than those in the 
bocage, the hedgerows are more numer- 



ous. The excessive moisture of the 
lowlands stimulates growth to the point 
where the luxuriant vegetation is almost 
tropical in richness, and the hedgerows 
are higher and thicker. The ground is 
hardly less soft than the neighboring 
marshes because of a high water table. 

Since the swamps are impassable to a 
modern mechanized army, the hedge- 
rowed lowland of the Carentan plain, 
even though of precarious consistency, 
had to sustain General Bradley's pro- 
existence of lowland and marsh pre- 
jected operations in July. But the co- 
sented him with strictly limited avenues 
of advance. To proceed through the 
Cotentin, U.S. troops had to advance 
within well-defined corridors blocked 
by huge hedgerows. 

The Germans had emphasized this 
natural condition by flooding much of 
the moist swampland and transforming 
it into lakes. They had constructed 
concrete dams to keep fresh-water 
streams from reaching the sea and had 
reversed the automatic locks of the dams 
originally constructed to hold back the 
sea at high tide. In the summer of 1944 
the marshland was covered with water. 12 
The insular or peninsular character of 



12 VIII Corps AAR, Jul; (British) Inter-Service 
Information Series (I.S.I.S.) , Report on France, 
Vol. II, Normandy, West of the Seine, Pt. Ill (C) , 
"Waterways" (Inter-Serv Topographical Dept Jan, 
43) ; Abbe Paul Levert, "Le Front Allemand est 
Brise," in Rene Herval, ed., Bataille de Normandie, 
2 vols. (Paris: Editions de "Notre Temps," 1947) , 
Vol. I, p. iggn; Le Capitaine de Vaisseau Delpeuch, 
Le Mur de I'Atlantique, 10 vols., Vol. Ill La Cdte 
de la Manche, de la Seine au Mont St. Michel 
(Bordeaux, 1952) (MS in possession of the Hist 
Sec, Ministry of the Navy, Republic of France) , p. 
95; Robert Bethegnies, Le Sacrifice de Dunkerque 
(1940) (Lille, 1947), pp. 225-26. I am indebted to 
Medecin en Chef Herve Cras of the Historical Sec- 
tion, Ministry of the Navy, Republic of France, 
for the two latter references. 



40 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the corridors of advance was thereby 
intensified. 

The U.S. forces by the beginning of 
July had secured jump-off positions on 
the dry land of the Carentan plain. 
These were obvious to the Germans, 
who held superior ground on the bo- 
cage hills that ring the Cotentin marshes. 
With excellent observation of American 
movements, the Germans were able to 
mass their fires with such accuracy that 
American commanders warned drivers 
against halting their vehicles at cross- 
roads, near bridges, or in towns; drivers 
were to proceed briskly through inter- 
sections, to take cover during a forced 
halt, and, if not able to camouflage their 
vehicles when stopped, to get clear with- 
out delay. 13 Even far behind the front, 
care had to be exercised. When a tank 
destroyer unit disregarded the warnings 
of military police and crossed a bridge 
on a main route three miles behind the 
front line, a division provost marshal 
renounced his "responsibility" for the 
safety of that unit. 14 

Three corridors of advance lead 
through the Carentan plain, each marked 
by a road. One goes along the west 
coast of the Cotentin from la Haye-du- 
Puits to Coutances. Another runs from 
Carentan southwest to Periers. The 
third goes south from Carentan to St. 
L6. General Bradley decided to make 
his main effort along the coastal road, 
for that corridor is the widest and the 
ground the most firm. Along this axis, 
but in reverse, the Germans had broken 
through the French defenses in 1 940 and 
gained Cherbourg. 



18 1st AGp Observers Gp Ltr, 1 Jul, VIII Corps 
G-g Jnl File. 

14 82d Abn Div G— 3 Jnl, 0130, 2 Jul. 



The VIII Corps, which comprised the 
army right flank on the west coast of the 
Cotentin, was to advance through la 
Haye-du-Puits to Coutances, a longer dis- 
tance than that down the corridors lead- 
ing south from Carentan to Periers and 
St. L6. By having VIII Corps begin its 
advance first, General Bradley expected 
all the army elements to reach the ob- 
jective line at the same time. The VII 
Corps, alerted to advance along the Ca- 
rentan-Periers axis, and that part of 
the XIX Corps west of the Vire River, 
positioned for an advance from Caren- 
tan toward St. L6, were to go into ac- 
tion in turn, from right (west) to left 
(east). 

Although General Bradley thus ex- 
posed himself to criticism for piecemeal 
commitment, he had no other logical 
choice. 15 The VII Corps headquarters, 
which had hurried south from Cher- 
bourg to take a sector at Carentan, 
needed time for orientation. The XIX 
Corps required troops that were in the 
process of arriving from the landing 
beaches. But with higher headquarters 
impatiently demanding that the offen- 
sive to the south get underway at once, 
and with the attack having been post- 
poned twice before, General Bradley 
felt that he could not delay. Further- 
more, waiting until all units could at- 
tack simultaneously would give the en- 
emy more opportunity to prepare his 
defenses, an opportunity the Germans 
had certainly exploited during the pre- 
vious two-week period of inactivity. 

Although most of the Americans fac- 
ing the hedgerow and marshy terrain 
of the Cotentin were aware of the dif- 
ficulties to come, the opposite had been 



See VIII Corps AAR, Jul. 



THE SITUATION 



41 



true before the invasion. American of- 
ficers for the most part had known lit- 
tle of the hedgerow country. Few had 
seen the hedgerows, and air photos gave 
no real appreciation of what they were 
like. If most American commanders 
had not been able to visualize hedgerow 
fighting, most of the soldiers had not 
even been able to imagine a hedgerow. 
Not until the U.S. troops entered the 
hedgerows in June had they begun to 
have an idea of how effectively the ter- 
rain could be used for defense. 16 

The hedgerow fighting in June had 
been so difficult that many units made 
special studies of the problem. Most 
concluded that the principles of tactics 
taught at The Infantry School at Fort 
Benning, Georgia, applied in this ter- 
rain as elsewhere. The task was to pin 
the enemy down with a base of fire and 
maneuver an element along a covered 
approach to assault from the flank. In 
Normandy the lateral hedgerows marked 
riot only the successive lines of advance 
and the positions for a base of fire but 
also the enemy defensive positions; 
hedges parallel to the line of advance 
could be made to serve as covered ap- 
proach routes. 

As this technique developed in June, 
a refinement emerged. The tank-in- 
fantry team operating toward a short ob- 
jective and with a simple plan proved to 
be effective. The objective was always 
the same, the next hedgerow. The plan 
was to provide for simultaneous advance 
of armor and infantry and their mutual 
support. As it usually worked out, a 
tank platoon supporting an infantry 
company fired through the lateral hedge 
that marked the line of departure and 

ls Answers by Gens Smith and Bull, 14-15 Sep 45. 



sprayed the flank hedgerows and the far 
side of the field to be taken with cover- 
ing fire. The infantry advanced along 
the flank hedges to the next lateral row 
and cleared the enemy out at close range. 
With the field thus secured, one section 
of tanks moved forward, while the other 
remained temporarily at the rear to 
eliminate enemy troops that might sud- 
denly appear from a concealed point or 
from an adjacent field. White phos- 
phorus shells from 4.2-inch chemical 
mortars and artillery could be brought 
to bear on stubborn enemy groups. 17 
, Advancing from one field to the next 
and clearing out individual hedgerows 
was a costly and slow procedure. It 
exhausted the troops and brought a high 
rate of casualties, but the slow plodding 
technique seemed necessary since "blitz 
action by tanks" was usually unsuccess- 
ful. A rapid armored advance generally 
resulted in only bypassing enemy groups 
that held up the infantry that was fol- 
lowing. 18 

Several drawbacks complicated the 
simple type of small unit attack devel- 
oped in June. One difficulty was mov- 
ing armor through the hedgerows. The 
openings that -already existed in the en- 
closures for wagons and cattle were well 
covered by German antitank gunners, 
and the appearance of an American tank 
prompted an immediate reaction. Al- 
though it was possible for a tank to 
climb the smaller hedgerow banks, the 
tank's most vulnerable part, the rela- 
tively lightly armored underbelly, was 



"XIX Corps, The Tk-Inf Team, 24 Jun, VIII 
Corps G— 3 Jnl File, Jul; 507th Parachute Inf 
AAR, Jun and Jul. 

18 FUSA Armd Sec Memo 1 , Lessons from Com- 
bat in Normandy, 19 Jun, 30th Div G— 3 Jnl File. 



42 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



thus exposed. 19 Consequently, before 
a tank could protrude its guns and ad- 
vance through a hedgerow, it was neces- 
sary for accompanying engineers to blast 
a hole through the hedgerow wall and 
open a passage for the tank. The ex- 
plosion immediately attracted German 
attention to the point where armor was 
to breach the hedgerow, and enemy an- 
titank weapons were not slow in cover- 
ing the new opening. 

The old sunken roads between the 
hedgerows were another hazard. So 
deep that they screened men and light 
vehicles from observation, these lanes, 
one observer said, "might have been 
made for ambush." 20 The highways of 
the region, narrow tarred roads, were 
adequate for mechanized forces, but the 
hedgerows that lined them gave excel- 
lent concealment to hostile troops. 

The fields were so small and the 
hedgerows consequently so numerous 
that the opposing forces fought at close 
range. U.S. troops armed with the Mi 
rifle, a weapon more effective at long 
ranges, were somewhat at a disadvantage. 
Submachine guns, more useful for clear- 
ing hedgerows at short ranges, and rifle- 
grenade launchers, particularly suitable 
for firing over the hedges at short dis- 
tances, were in too short supply to be 
made available to all troops. There was 
also a shortage of white phosphorus 



19 There was feeling in some quarters that the 
lack of emphasis on hedgerow operations during 
the preinvasion period had prevented the develop- 
ment of an infantry support tank heavily armed 
in front and in the bowels. Interv, Col C. H. 
Bonesteel, III (formerly in the 12th AGp G— 3 
Plans Sec) , 18 Jun 47, Washington, Pogue Files. 

20 314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat 
(Germany, n.d.) , an unofficial history, p. 18. 



shells, effective in clearing hedgerow 
corners of enemy strongpoints. 21 

A serious hindrance to American op- 
erations in hedgerow country was the 
lack of observation posts in the flat area 
of irregularly shaped fields, where it was 
impossible to anticipate the pattern of 
the hedgerow enclosures. Hedgerows 
and fields all resembled each other. 
There were few terrain features to serve 
as general objectives, as geographical 
markers, or as guiding points for small 
units. Consequently, small units had dif- 
ficulty identifying their map locations 
with accuracy. Directional confusion 
often existed. Constant surveillance 
and frequent regrouping were necessary 
to maintain correct orientation. 

Because the Germans occupied supe- 
rior terrain in the surrounding bocage, 
American offensive movement brought 
immediate enemy artillery and mortar 
fire, deadly fire that had been carefully 
registered in advance. American coun- 
terbattery fire was difficult, for the hedge- 
rows limited observation and prevented 
accurate adjustment of fire from the 
ground. Scaling ladders were in de- 
mand to place observers in trees, but 
forward observers were loath to climb 
trees for vantage points because of the 
danger of being shot by nervous Ameri- 
cans (many Americans were not yet ex- 
perienced in battle and tended to be 
overalert to the possibility of enemy 
snipers). So extreme had this situation 
become in June that one division for- 
bade its troops in the rear of the assault 
elements to fire into trees unless a hostile 
act had been committed; the division 



21 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 80; 
FUSA (Ord) Ltr, Supply of WP for 105-mm. and 
155-mm. howitzers, 1 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File. 



THE SITUATION 



43 



recommended that forward observers 
place red streamers in the foliage and a 
guard at the base of any tree they used 
for observation purposes. 22 Small cub 
planes, organic equipment of artillery 
units, were excellent for reconnaissance, 
observation, and adjustment of artillery 
fire, but rain and overcast skies fre- 
quently kept them grounded in the Co- 
ten tin. 

Another complication was the gen- 
eral absence in combat units of smooth- 
working tank-infantry-engineer-artillery 
teams. Preinvasion training had not de- 
veloped such teams, and instructions 
during combat, however exact, could not 
produce proficient units in short order. 

The most obvious weakness of the 
American ground attack during June 
was the tank-infantry team. Many in- 
fantry commanders did not know how 
to use tanks properly in support, and 
many tank commanders did not realize 
how best to render assistance in a given 
situation. "The development of oper- 
ational procedures and techniques be- 
tween the infantry and close support 
tanks must not be left until the arrival 
in the combat zone," an army report 
stated, but that was the situation ex- 
actly. 23 The infantry divisions had not 
had sufficient training with separate tank 
battalions, even though the latter units 
were normally division attachments. 
To remedy this situation, a tank battal- 
ion attached to a division in Normandy 
continued, insofar as possible, to be as- 
sociated with that division throughout 
the campaign. Eventually, this devel- 

22 Maj Gen Leonard T. Gerow to Gen Bradley, 
0905, 27 Jun, and 90th Div Operational Memo 8, 
2 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File. 

" First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 
121-22. 



oped mutual confidence and an aware- 
ness on the part of both of the individual 
peculiarities, the limitations, and the 
strengths of each. By the beginning of 
July, sufficient time had not elapsed to 
produce smoothly functioning tank-in- 
fantry teams. 

The greatest problem in achieving 
adequate tank-infantry co-ordination was 
that of communication. The difficulty 
of on-the-spot co-ordination between an 
infantry platoon leader taking cover in 
a ditch and a commander buttoned up 
in his tank was a continual complaint 
that plagued the operations of tank-in- 
fantry teams, a universal problem not 
limited to Normandy. 24 Because voice 
command could not always be heard 
above the sounds of battle and the noises 
of tank motors, hand signals had to be 
worked out and smoke signals and pyro- 
technic devices prearranged. Riflemen 
guiding tanks sometimes had to get in 
front and jump up and down to get the 
attention of a driver. Eventually a 
tanker would stick his head through a 
turret hatch and take the message. 25 
Because armor and infantry radios op- 
erated on different channels, division 
signal companies in Normandy installed 
in the tanks infantry-type radios that 
could be tuned to the infantry radio net. 
To avoid the frustration that sometimes 
compelled infantrymen to pound their 
fists on tanks in vain efforts to claim the 
attention of tankers peering through 
tiny slits, Signal companies attached to 
the outside of tanks microphones or 
telephones connected with the tank in- 

24 See, for example, John Miller, jr., CART- 
WHEEL: The Reduction of Rabaul, UNITED 
STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washing- 
ton, 1959) . 

26 See CI 47 (8th Div). 



44 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



tercommunication system. Neverthe- 
less, the development of smoothly func- 
tioning combinations had to attend the 
evolution through combat of elements 
accustomed to working in unison in mu- 
tual confidence and with a minimum of 
overt direction. 26 

While infantry platoons trained with 
tanks as much as possible in Normandy, 
engineers made up explosive charges to 
blast tank-sized openings in hedgerows. 
Engineers in those divisions facing water 
obstacles assembled sections of bridging 
for future river and canal crossings. 
Above all, commanders tried to indoc- 
trinate the individual soldier with the 
idea that continuous and aggressive ad- 
vance was the best assurance of safety in 
the hedgerow terrain. 

At the beginning of July, those Ameri- 
cans who had fought in the hedgerow 
country during the preceding month had 
no illusions about instituting a major 
drive through that type of terrain. 
Added to the difficulties of the terrain 
was the weather. In June clammy cold 
rain had kept the swamps flooded, slowed 
road traffic, neutralized Allied air supe- 
riority, concealed enemy movements and 
dispositions^ and left the individual sol- 
dier wet, muddy, and dispirited. Dur- 
ing the first weeks of July almost inces- 
sant rain was to continue. 

In addition to problems of terrain and 
weather, Americans were facing a metic- 
ulous and thorough enemy, troops well 
dug in and well camouflaged, soldiers 



28 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 
121-22; see Robert L. Hewitt, Work Horse of the 
Western Front, the Story of the 30th Infantry 
Division (Washington: Infantry Journal, Inc., 
1946) (hereafter cited as Hewitt, Story of 30th Di- 
vision), pp. 21-22. 



holding excellent defensive positions. 
Bolstering the defenses were tanks su- 
perior in protective armor and in fire 
power to those available to the Ameri- 
cans. 

The German tank employed in large 
numbers in western Europe was the 
Mark IV, a medium tank of 23 tons with 
a 75-mm. gun. 27 The standard combat 
vehicle of tank battalions in armored 
divisions, it presented no frightening as- 
pect of invulnerability. The Mark V 
or Panther, on the other hand, weighing 
45 tons and carrying a high-velocity 75- 
mm. gun, had appeared in Normandy 
during June in limited numbers and 
with good effect. Panthers were begin- 
ning to be distributed to tank battalions 
organic to armored divisions. Although 
the Allies had not yet made contact in 
Europe with the Mark VI or Tiger, 
knowledge acquired in North Africa of 
its 56-ton weight and 88-mm. gun was 
hardly reassuring. This tank was re- 
served for separate battalions distributed 
on the basis of one to an armored corps. 
Reports of a modified Mark VI, the King 
or Royal Tiger, weighing 67 tons, mount- 
ing an improved 88-mm. gun, and be- 



27 The following is based on Colonel C. P. 
Stacey, The Canadian Army, 1939-1945 (Ottawa: 
King's Printer, 1948) , p. i83n.; G. M. Barnes, 
Major General, United States Army (Ret.) , Weap- 
ons of World War II (New York: D. Van Nostrand 
Company, Inc., 1947) , passim; Constance McLaugh- 
lin Green, Harry C. Thomson, and Peter C. Roots, 
The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions 
for War, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 
WAR II (Washington, 1955) , Chs. X-XTII; Wil- 
mot, The Struggle for Europe, pp. 294, 309; Rup- 
penthal, Logistical Support, I, 443; WD TM-E 30- 
451, Handbook of German Military Forces (Wash- 
ington, 15 March 1945) ; OKH Generalinspekteur 
der Panzertruppen Fuehrervortragsnotzigen, Band 
II, VI.-IX.44. 



THE SITUATION 



45 



ginning to appear in the west, increased 
Allied concern. 28 

In contrast, the heaviest British tank 
used in Europe, the Churchill, was not 
quite 40 tons, while the all-purpose 
Sherman, the American medium tank 
used by the British as well, weighed only 
30. Most of the Shermans mounted the 
relatively low-powered 75-mm. gun at 
this time, although a few carried a 76- 
mm. gun or a 105-mm. howitzer. The 
primary weapon of the American light 
tank was the 37-mm. gun, although a 
few were beginning to be equipped with 
the 75-mm. gun. 

Though German tanks were more 
heavily armed and armored than Allied 
tanks, they had the disadvantages of be- 
ing less mobile and less dependable me- 
chanically. Also, in contrast with Allied 
armor, they lacked a power-driven tra- 
versing turret; the German hand-oper- 
ated firing turrets could not compete 
with those of the Allied tanks, but they 
were more than adequate for long-range 
action. 

American antitank weapons and am- 
munition were not generally effective 
against the frontal armor of the heavier 
German tanks. It was necessary to at- 
tack enemy tanks from the flanks, and 
the restricted terrain and narrow roads 
of the hedgerow country made this dif- 
ficult. Even from the flanks, American 
weapons were not wholly effective. 
Only the 2.36-inch rocket launcher, the 



28 See XIX Corps AAR, Jul, for a descriptive 
sheet on enemy armor circulated to the troops. 
This sheet lists the dimensions of the enemy tanks 
and has photographs of the Mark IV and V. Op- 
posite the Mark VI listing there is a large ques- 
tion mark and the inscription: "None met yet— 
will YOU get the first?" 



bazooka carried by the individual sol- 
dier, could be employed with any hope 
of consistent success. 

Although experiments were being 
made in the United States to improve 
the armor-piercing quality of ammuni- 
tion, General Eisenhower in early July 
wrote to General George C. Marshall, 
Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, "We cannot 
wait for further experimentation." 29 
The 90-mm. guns, organic at this time 
to the antiaircraft artillery gun battal- 
ions, seemed to offer a means to im- 
prove antitank defense and armor capa- 
bilities in the attack. But greater 
numbers of this weapon were needed, 
both for tank destroyers and for tanks. 
So urgent was this need that General 
Eisenhower sent a special representative 
to the United States to expedite not 
only delivery of the 90-mm. guns but also 
research on improved armor-piercing 
ammunition. At the same time, in the 
field General Bradley was attaching 90- 
mm. antiaircraft artillery gun battalions 
to ground combat elements for defense 
against armor, since the weapon of this 
unit was the only one "sure to pene- 
trate" the front of the heavier German 
tanks. 30 

At the end of June the apparent supe- 
riority of German tanks seemed par- 
ticularly serious. Searching for evidence 
of a forthcoming enemy counterattack 
against the Allied foothold, Allied in- 
telligence estimated that 230 Mark IV, 
150 Mark V (Panther), and 40 Mark VI 
(Tiger) tanks faced the Allies. To these 
could be added the tanks of three elite 



28 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 

80 Ltr, Gen Bradley to Maj Gen J. Lawton Col- 
lins, 6 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File. 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




General Hausser 



divisions assembling one hundred miles 
west of Paris— about 200 Mark IV, 150 
Panther, and 80 Tiger tanks. These 
constituted a sizable armored force, 
especially if, as seemed likely, the Ger- 
mans were to employ them in a massive 
counterattack. 31 

Impressed by the "formidable array" 
of German panzer divisions on the Brit- 
ish front, eight definitely identified and 
more on the way, 21 Army Group 
warned that a "full blooded counter- 
attack" seemed imminent. In agree- 
ment. First Army pointed to the British- 
American boundary and to the PeYiers- 
Carentan area as the two most likely 
places for an enemy counterattack, 32 



"FUSA G-a Per Kpt, 28 Jun. 
s '2i AGp Div, M- 5 o^, 30 Jun; FUSA G-2 Est 7, 
sg jun. 



The First Army G-2, Col. Benjamin 
A. Dickson, was disturbed by the post- 
ponements of the First Army attack to 
the south in June. He felt that the // SS 
Panzer Corps (controlling the pth and 
roth SS Panzer Divisions), arriving in 
Normandy from the Eastern Front, 
might not be fully assembled by 1 July, 
but that it was certain to be entirely as- 
sembled two days later, when American 
operations in the Cotentin were sched- 
uled to start. An immediate First 
Army attack, on 1 July, might force the 
commitment of the German armored 
units in defense rather than in a coun- 
terattack. Furthermore, a panzer divi- 
sion and two infantry divisions were 
moving; into Normandy from the Fif- 
teenth Army Pas-de-Calais area. If the 
Americans attacked at once, they might 
prevent the Germans from deploying 
these forces in orderly defensive disposi- 
tions. Other elements of the Fifteenth 
Army, still immobilized by the threat 
of Fortitude, could not possibly reach 
the First Army battle area by 1 July, 
but they might conceivably do so by 3 
July. Finally, delaying the attack until 
3 July allowed the enemy two more 
days to improve his positions, perfect his 
communications, and establish a sound 
supply situation in the "rather good 
natural defensive line" selected in front 
of the U.S. forces. 33 Despite these dis- 
advantages of postponing the attack 
beyond 1 July, General Bradley's offen- 
sive was not to get underway for two 
more days. 

This then was the situation of the U.S. 

offensive, an attack pointed through a 



"FUSA Spec Est 4. 39 Jun. 



THE SITUATION 



47 



flooded pastoral region of ten thousand 
little fields enclosed by hedgerows. 
Through this region made for ambush, 
where the German defenders had dug 
into the hedgerow banks and erected 
strong defenses, the Americans were to 
fight from field to field, from hedgerow 
to hedgerow, measuring the progress of 
their advance in yards. Over it all a 
steady rain was to pour, and the odors of 
the Normandy soil were to mingle with 
the smell of decaying flesh and become 
part of the war. 

German 

At the beginning of July the Germans 
in the west were in the midst of impor- 
tant command changes. Generalfeld- 
marschall Guenther von Kluge, who had 
commanded an army group on the East- 
ern Front for two and a half years, was 
arriving to replace Rundstedt as com- 
mander in chief in the west. General 
der Panzertruppen Heinrich Eberbach, 
formerly a corps commander on the 
Eastern Front and an outstanding armor 
officer, was about to relieve Geyr as 
commander of Panzer Group West. 
Hausser, formerly commander of the II 
SS Panzer Corps had recently become 
commander of the Seventh Army, taking 
the place of Dollman, who had died of 
a heart attack. Of the high-ranking 
officers who had met the Allied invasion 
less than a month earlier, Rommel, com- 
mander of Army Group B, remained as 
the single veteran with experience 
against the British and Americans. 

Deeply impressed by the Allied suc- 
cess and the German failure in June, 
Rommel felt that errors in tactical de- 
ployment and in handling reserves had 




Field Marshal von Kluge 



contributed to a large extent to the situa- 
tion at the beginning of July. 34 He also 
believed that OB WEST* lack of cer- 
tain command prerogatives had been 
detrimental to the German effort: he 
recommended that OB WEST be given 
command over all the elements in the 
theater, including Navy and Air, "like 
Montgomery's" headquarters. 36 

Aware of Rommel's capacity for en- 
thusiasm and despair, Hitler had alerted 
Kluge to the possibility that Rommel 
might be a difficult subordinate. But 
when Kluge visited Rommel soon after 
his arrival in the west, he found that 
they were agreed on the course of action 

" The major source for this section is James B. 
Hodgson, Battle of the Hedgerows, R-54. 

"Rommel Memo, 3 Jul, AGp B Operations- 
befehle i 9 .Vt-ji. VIH.44. 



48 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



to be followed: "Unconditional hold- 
ing of the present defense line. . . . Im- 
provement of the present lines forward, 
i.e. by attack after most careful prepara- 
tion where it appears profitable. Forti- 
fication of the sector behind the front by 
all means available." 36 

The two sectors of the army group 
front were dissimilar. Eberbach, who 
had the mission of keeping Montgomery 
from getting across the Caen plain to- 
ward Paris, deepened the defense of Pan- 
zer Group West. He feared that if his 
troops occupied a shallow line of resist- 
ance in dense concentrations they would 
be destroyed by British artillery. He 
therefore planned to keep one third of 
his infantry on a lightly held outpost 
line and on his main line of resistance. 
The remainder of the infantry was to 
hold successive positions behind the 
main line to a depth of about 2,000 
yards. Rear echelon troops and reserves 
were to construct alternate positions 
from 1,000 to 6,000 yards behind the 
front. These defenses, plus interlock- 
ing firing positions backed up by the 
antiaircraft artillery of the /// Flak 
Corps in a ground role, were to prevent 
British armor from making a break- 
through. Behind the static defense 
positions, emergency reserves consisting 
of tank-infantry teams were to be ready 
to move to threatened points of penetra- 
tion. Finally, if the British neverthe- 
less broke through the defenses, panzer 
divisions in operational reserve were to 
be prepared to seal off the openings. 



36 OB WEST KTB, 3 Jul; Memo for Record, 2 
Jul, Pz Gp W KTB, Anlage 35; Min of Hitler 
Confs, Fragment 46, p. 3, published in Felix Gil- 
bert, Hitler Directs His War (New York: Ox- 
ford University Press, Inc., 1950) , pp. 102-04. 



This was deep-zone defense and effective 
utilization of resources for a defensive 
mission. During July, Eberbach was to 
attempt with partial success to replace 
his armor on the front with infantry 
units arriving to reinforce the sector. 37 

Hausser, in command of the Seventh 
Army, with fewer troops but better de- 
fensive terrain than Eberbach, organized 
what in comparison appeared to be a 
shallow defense. Behind the outpost 
line and the main line of resistance, both 
sparsely manned in order to bolster the 
reserves, the bulk of the troops were 
grouped into local reserves capable of 
launching counterattacks with the sup- 
port of tanks and assault guns. 
Although Hausser's Seventh Army 
lacked the fire power of Eberbach's Pan- 
zer Group West, it had plenty of assault 
guns. Superior to tanks in fire power, 
they were effective weapons that Amer- 
icans habitually mistook for tanks. 

In the Seventh Army sector the Ger- 
mans expected a type of combat they 
called "bush warfare." Battle in the 
hedgerows was to be fought according to 
the pattern of active defense. Antic- 
ipating that the Americans would 
advance in small parallel tank-infantry 
columns, the Germans planned to meet 
them by having a reserve commander 
lead his small unit in a counterattack 
against the American flank— if he could 
find it. "We cannot do better," the 
Germans reported, exactly as their 
American adversaries often stated, "than 



37 Telecons, 1 Jul, AGp B KTB; Memo for 
Record, Rommel and Geyr, 2 Jul, Pz Gp W KTB, 
Anlage 35; Hitler Ltr of Instr, 8 Jul, quoted in 
full in Kluge Ltr of Instr, 8 Jul, AGp B Fuehrer- 
befehle; Pz Gp W SOP's, 6 Jul, Pz Gp W KTB 
Anlagen yi and 72; MS # B-840 (Eberbach) . 



THE SITUATION 



49 



to adopt the methods of combat of the 
enemy with all his ruses and tricks." 38 

Because of the planning for offensive 
action in June, the bulk of German 
strength was still concentrated in the 
Caen sector under Panzer Group West. 
In comparison, the Seventh Army, with 
a defensive mission of preventing the 
Americans from driving south, was ex- 
pecting the imminent arrival of a single 
armored division. The army had three 
relatively fresh infantry-type divisions 
four composite units of battered troops 
that were divisions in name alone, one 
detached parachute regiment, and three 
kampfgruppen. Of two sorts, kampf- 
gruppen were mobile combat teams of 
regimental size formed from static of 
infantry divisions with organic or req- 
uisitioned transport to meet the crisis 
of the invasion, or they were improvised 
field formations used to organize rem- 
nants of combat units. The kampfgrup- 
pen in the Seventh Army sector at the 
beginning of July were of the first type; 
during July many were to become the 
second sort. 

The Seventh Army had two corps, the 
// Parachute and the LXXXIV. The II 
Parachute Corps, which had moved from 
Brittany in mid-June, held a sixteen- 
mile sector between the Vire and the 
Drome Rivers. Responsible for the St. 
L6-Caumont area, the corps controlled 
two divisions and two kampfgruppen. 

On the extreme left (west) of the Ger- 
man positions in Normandy, the 
LXXXIV Corps faced the Americans in 
the Cotentin. The initial corps com- 



88 Report of combat experience, "Erfahrung der 
Panzer-Bekaempfung an der Invasionsfront Nor- 
mandie," Sonderstab Oehmichen, z. Zt. Oberbefehl- 
shaber West Ic/Pz. Offz., 25 Jun, AGp B KTB 
Anlage, 29 Jun; MS # B-731 (Fahrmbacher) . 



mander, Marcks, had been killed early 
in June, and OKW had appointed Gen- 
eralleutnant Dietrich von Choltitz to 
take his place. While Choltitz was travel- 
ing from the Italian front to take up his 
new post, General der Artillerie Wilhelm 
Fahrmbacher had temporarily left his 
corps command in Brittany to lead the 
LXXXIV Corps in the Cotentin. Chol- 
titz assumed command on 18 June, and 
Fahrmbacher returned to Brittany. 

Responsible for the area west of the 
Vire River to the Cotentin west coast, 
Choltitz in reality had two sectors 
separated by the Prairies Marecageuses 
de Gorges. A panzer grenadier divi- 
sion, reinforced by an infantry kampf- 
gruppe and a separate parachute regi- 
ment, defended on the right (east). On 
the left, elements of five infantry divi- 
sions were deployed in an outpost posi- 
tion and on a main line of resistance. 
Desiring a deeper defense, Choltitz had 
on his own initiative delineated addi- 
tional lines of defense in the rear, lines 
he had not divulged to higher headquar- 
ters for fear of appearing to controvert 
Hitler's instructions to hold fast. In 
the center and to the rear, a parachute 
regiment, under OKW control, con- 
stituted the corps reserve. 

The strength of the German defenses 
in the Cotentin stemmed not so much 
from the quality or the number of the 
troops as from the nature of the terrain 
occupied. The soldiers of the static 
coastal divisions that had met the initial 
onslaught of the Allied invasion were 
older personnel, many of limited duty, 
equipped for the most part with a variety 
of weapons that were not the most 
modern. These units, as well as others 
that had arrived later, had sustained very 
heavy losses during the June fighting. 



50 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Yet the ground they held in the Cotentin 
was so favorable for defense that the 
Germans could look forward with con- 
fidence to the forthcoming American 
attack. 

American preoccupation with Cher- 
bourg in June and the German decision 
to contest not that main effort but the 
anticipated drive to the south had 
resulted in a two-week respite in the 
Cotentin that the Germans had used to 
advantage. They had fashioned a 
coherent defense. 39 

Despite excellent defensive prepara- 
tions— Eberbach facing the British with 
a deep-zone defense, Hausser facing the 
Americans and utilizing the terrain to 
advantage— holding the line in Nor- 



89 MS # B-418 (Choltitz) ; Dietrich von Choltitz, 
Soldat unter Soldaten (Konstanz-Zurich-Wien: 
Europa Verlag, 1951) . 



mandy was a gamble. As Rundstedt 
and Rommel had pointed out, if the 
Allies succeeded in penetrating the Ger- 
man positions, the absence of defensive 
lines between Normandy and the Ger- 
man border meant that the Germans 
would have to withdraw from France. 
Lacking mobility comparable to that ot 
the Allies meant that the withdrawal 
would probably turn into retreat and 
rout. Yet the fact was that the German 
troops held the best positions they could 
hope for in France. The line was rela- 
tively short; the terrain was naturally 
strong; the battlefield imposed serious 
restrictions on Allied deployment. 
Only a small sector of open ground near 
Caen was difficult to defend. With 
reserves on the way, the Germans could 
reasonably hope to hold out until the 
decisive counterattack or the miracle 
promised by Hitler turned the course 
of the war. 



PART TWO 
THE BATTLE OF THE HEDGEROWS 



CHAPTER IV 



The Offensive Launched 



The Preparations 

Designated to lead off in the U.S. First 
Army offensive to the south, VIII Corps 
was to advance twenty miles along the 
Cotentin west coast, secure high ground 
near Coutances, and form the western 
shoulder of a new army line extending 
to Caumont. The line was to be gained 
after VII, XIX, and V Corps attacked in 
turn in their respective zones. A quick 
thrust by VIII Corps promised to 
facilitate the entire army advance. By 
threatening the flank of enemy units 
opposing U.S. forces in the center, the 
corps would help its neighbors across the 
water obstacles and the mire of the 
Cotentin. At the conclusion of the 
offensive action across the army front, 
the Americans would be out of the 
swampland and on the dry ground of 
Normandy bo cage. 

The VIII Corps held a fifteen-mile 
front in a shallow arc facing a complex 
of hills around the important crossroads 
town of la Haye-du-Puits. Athwart the 
Cherbourg-Coutances highway and 
dominating the surrounding country- 
side, these hills formed a natural defen- 
sive position on which the Germans 
anchored the western flank of their Nor- 
mandy front. Just to the south of the 
hill mass, the firm ground in the corps 
zone narrowed to seven miles between 
the Prairies Mar&ageuses de Gorges and 



the tidal flats of the Ay River. This 
ground was the VIII Corps' initial objec- 
tive. (Map 3) 

Charged with the task of unhinging 
the German line at its western end was 
Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, a soldier 
with a distinguished and extensive com- 
bat career. He had enlisted in the 
Regular Army in 1910 and had risen 
during World War I to regimental com- 
mand and the rank of colonel. He had 
demonstrated his competence in World 
War II as a division commander in 
Sicily and Italy. Several months before 
the invasion of western Europe he had 
assumed command of the VIII Corps, 
and nine days after the continental land- 
ing the corps headquarters had become 
operational in France with the mission 
of protecting the rear of the forces driv- 
ing on Cherbourg. The terrain that had 
been of great assistance to the VIII Corps 
in June now inversely became an aid to 
the enemy. 

Looking south across hedgerowed low- 
land toward la Haye-du-Puits, General 
Middleton faced high ground between 
sea and marsh, heights that shield the 
town on three sides. On the southwest, 
Hill 84 is the high point of the Mont- 
gardon ridge, an eminence stretching 
almost to the sea. On the north, twin 
hills, 1 2 1 and 1 3 1 meters in height, and 
the triplet hills of the Poterie ridge rise 
abruptly. To the east, Mont Castre lifts 



54 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




its slopes out o£ the marshes. The 
adjacent lowlands make the hill masses 
seem more rugged and steep than they 
are. To reach the initial objective, VIII 
Corps had first to take this commanding 
terrain. 

General Middleton had three divi- 
sions, veterans o£ the June fighting. All 
were in the line, the 79th Infantry on 
the right (west), the 82d Airborne in 
the center, and the 90th Infantry on the 
left. Because the 82d was soon to be 
returned to England to prepare for pro- 



jected airborne operations, General 
Middleton assigned the division only a 
limited objective, part of the high 
ground north of la Haye-du-Puits. The 
79th Division on the right and the 90th 
on the left were to converge and meet 
below the town to pinch out the air- 
borne infantrymen. Thus, the corps 
attack was to resemble a V-shaped thrust, 
with the 82d clearing the interior 
of the wedge. The terrain dictated 
the scheme of maneuver, for the 
configuration of the coast and the 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



55 



westward extension of the marecage nar- 
rowed the corps zone south of la Haye- 
du-Puits. To replace the airborne 
troops, the 8th Division was to join the 
corps upon its arrival in France. Ex- 
pecting to use the 8th Division beyond 
the initial objective, staff officers at corps 
headquarters tentatively scheduled its 
commitment to secure the final objec- 
tive, Coutances. 

Thus the VIII Corps was to make 
its attack with three divisions abreast. 
Each was to secure a portion of the 
heights forming a horseshoe around la 
Haye-du-Puits: the 79th was to seize the 
Montgardon ridge on the west and Hill 
121; the 82d Airborne was to capture 
Hill 131 and the triplet hills of the 
Poterie ridge in the center; and the 90th, 
making the main effort, was to take 
Mont Castre on the east. With the 
commanding ground about la Haye-du- 
Puits in hand, the 79th Division was to 
push south to Lessay. There, where the 
tidal flats of the Ay River extend four 
miles inland and provide an effective 
barrier to continuing military opera- 
tions southward, the 79th was to halt 
temporarily while the 90th continued 
with the newly arrived 8th. 1 

Two problems confronted VIII Corps 
at the start of the attack: the hedgerow 
terrain north of la Haye-du-Puits and 
the German observation points on the 
commanding ground around the town. 
To overcome them, General Middleton 
placed great reliance on his nine bat- 
talions of medium and heavy artillery, 
which included two battalions of 240- 
mm. howitzers; he also had the tem- 
porary assistance of four battalions of 

'VIII Corps AAR, Jul. 



the VII Corps Artillery. Only on the 
afternoon before the attack did he learn 
that he was also to have extensive air 
support. In accordance with routine 
procedure, the air liaison officer at corps 
headquarters had forwarded a list of five 
targets considered suitable for air bom- 
bardment—suspected supply dumps and 
troop concentration areas deep in the 
enemy rear. A telephone call from 
First Army headquarters disclosed that 
General Eisenhower had made available 
a large number of aircraft for employ- 
ment in the VIII Corps zone. When 
assured "You can get all you want," the 
corps commander submitted an enlarged 
request that listed targets immediately 
in front of the combat troops. 2 

Allied intelligence was not altogether 
in agreement on the probable German 
reaction to the American offensive. Ex- 
pecting a major German counterattack 
momentarily, higher headquarters an- 
ticipated strong resistance. 3 On the other 
hand, the VIII Corps G-2, Col. Andrew 
R. Reeves, thought either a counter- 
attack or a strong defense most unlikely. 
Because of the inability or reluctance of 
the Germans to reinforce the Cherbourg 
garrison, because of their apparent short- 
age of artillery ammunition and their 
lack of air support, and because of the 

2 VIII Corps G-3 Jnl File, 2 Jul. Requests for 
air support usually came from the G— 3 Air Sec- 
tion of a division and were funneled through the 
corps and army G— 3 Air Sections to the IX TAC, 
which fulfilled the requests according to the 
availability of planes. For a detailed study of 
air-ground liaison, see Kent Roberts Greenfield, 
Army Ground Forces and the Air-Ground Battle 
Team Including Organic Light Aviation, AGF 
Study 35 (Hist Sec, AGF, 1948) , particularly pp. 
6 9 ff. 

8 21 AGp Dir, M-505, 30 Jun, Pogue Files; 
FUSA G-2 Est 7, 29 Jun. 



56 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




La Haye-du-Puits. Road at top leads south to Periers and Coutances 



probable low morale of their soldiers, he 
considered an immediate counterattack 
improbable. Nevertheless, he recognized 
that if the Germans were to keep the 
Allies from expanding their bridgehead, 
they would eventually have to counter- 
attack. Until they could, it was logical 
that they try to keep the Allied beach- 
head shallow by defending where they 
stood. Colonel Reeves believed, how- 
ever, that they lacked the strength to 
remain where they were. He expected 
that as soon as they were driven from 
their main line of resistance near la 



Haye-du-Puits, they would withdraw 
through a series of delaying positions to 
the high ground near Coutances. 4 

That VIII Corps would drive the 
enemy back was a matter of little doubt, 
since it was generally believed on the 
lower levels that the corps had "assem- 
bled a force overwhelmingly superior in 
all arms. ..." 5 Below the army echelon, 
intelligence reports exaggerated the 



'VIII Corps G-ss Est 2, *8 Jan. 

c 82d Abn Div G-2 Est, l Jul. The G-t re- 
ports of the 8zd arc typical of those published by 
the other divisions of VH1 Corps. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



57 



fragmentary nature of German units and 
underestimated German organizational 
efficiency and flexibility. The First 
Army G-2 cautiously estimated that the 
German infantry divisions in Normandy 
averaged 75 percent of authorized 
strength and lacked much equipment. 
But the VIII Corps G-2 judged that 
among the enemy forces on his im- 
mediate front "the German divisional 
unit as such . . . has apparently ceased to 
exist." 6 Perhaps true in the last week of 
June, the latter statement was not ac- 
curate by the first week in July. 

For all the optimism, combat patrols 
noted that the Germans had set up an 
exceptionally strong outpost screen, re- 
plenished their supplies, reorganized 
their forces, and resumed active recon- 
naissance and patrolling. It was there- 
fore reasonable to assume that the enemy 
had strengthened his main line of resist- 
ance and rear areas. Morale had un- 
doubtedly improved. On the other 
hand, intelligence officers judged that 
enemy morale and combat efficiency had 
risen only from poor to fair. Germans 
still lacked aggressiveness when patrol- 
ling; critical shortages of mines and wire 
existed; and artillery fired but sporadi- 
cally, indicating that the Germans were 
undoubtedly conserving their meager 
ammunition supplies to cover delaying 
action as they withdrew. 7 

Confidence and assurance gained in 
the Cherbourg campaign led most Amer- 
icans to expect no serious interruption 
in the offensive to the south. A schedule 
of artillery ammunition expenditures 



6 FUSA G-2 Est 7, 29 Jun; VIII Corps G-2 Est 
2, 28 Jun. 

7 82d Abn Div Rev Intel Annex to FO 7 (Rev) , 
28 Jun, and G-2 Est, 1 Jul. 



allotted for the attack revealed tem- 
porary removal of restrictions and a new 
system of self-imposed unit rationing. 
Although ammunition stocks on the 
Continent were not copious, they 
appeared to be more than adequate. 
Even though officers at First Army 
warned that unreasonable expenditures 
would result in a return to strict con- 
trols, the implicit premise underlying 
the relaxation of controls for the attack 
was the belief that each corps would have 
to make a strong or major effort for only 
two days. Two days of heavy artillery 
fire by each corps was considered ade- 
quate to propel the army to the Cou- 
tances-Caumont line. 8 

In the two days immediately preced- 
ing the attack, U.S. units on the VIII 
Corps front noted a marked change jn 
enemy behavior. German artillery be- 
came more active; several tanks and as- 
sault guns made brief appearances; small 
arms, automatic weapons, and mortar 
fire increased in volume; infantrymen 
seemed more alert. American patrols 
began to have difficulty moving into hos- 
tile territory. Only in the corps center 
could reconnaissance patrols move more 
freely into areas formerly denied them. 
From these indications, corps concluded 
that the enemy was preparing to make a 
show of resistance before withdrawing. 9 

Commanders and troops making last- 
minute preparations for the jump-off 
watched in some dismay a few minutes 
after midnight, 2 July, as a drizzling rain 
began to fall. The early morning 
attack hour was fast approaching when 
the rain became a downpour. It was 

8 FUSA Ltr, Fid Arty Ammo Expenditures, 2 
Jul, VIII Corps G-3 Jnl File; 83d Div G-2, G-3 
Jnl and File, 2 and 3 Jul. 

9 VIII Corps Weekly Per Rpt, 1 Jul. 



58 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



obvious that the heavy air program 
promised in support of the offensive 
would have to be canceled. 10 As events 
developed, not even the small observa- 
tion planes, invaluable for locating 
artillery targets in the hedgerow coun- 
try, were able to get off the ground. 

Despite this early disappointment, the 
attack otherwise began as scheduled. 
American troops plodded through the 
darkness and the mud toward the line 
of departure. At 0515, 3 July, the artil- 
lery started a 15-minute preparation. 

The Defenses 

The Germans had no intention of 
falling back. From the high ground 
near la Haye-du-Puits, so dominating 
that observers on the crests could watch 
Allied shipping off the invasion beaches, 
Germans studied the preparations for 
the attack they had been expecting for 
almost two weeks. They were ready. 
Yet despite their readiness, they were 
almost taken by surprise. The state of 
affairs harked back to the development 
of the LXXXIV Corps defenses west of 
the Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges. 

In June, just before American troops 
had cut the Cherbourg peninsula and 
isolated the port, Rundstedt, Rommel, 
Dollman, and Fahrmbacher had decided 
to divide the LXXXIV Corps forces into 
two groups— one in the north to defend 
Cherbourg, the other to block American 
movement south. Their intention had 
been to leave weak forces in defense of 



10 FUSA G-3 Jnl, 0340, 3 Jul. Note: The hours 
of the day in this volume are British Double Time 
when used in connection with Allied activities, 
one hour earlier for the Germans— so that 1300 
for the Allies is the same as 1200 (noon) for the 
Germans. 



Cherbourg and to build a strong line 
across the Cotentin from Portbail to the 
Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges. 11 By 
insisting on compliance with original 
plans for a forceful defense of Cher- 
bourg, however, Hitler had disrupted 
the German commanders' plan. As a 
result, the troops in the south were 
weaker than had been hoped. The des- 
ignated chief of the forces in the south 
(Generalleutnant Heinz Hellmich of 
the 243d Division ) was killed in action on 
17 June, and Col. Eugen Koenig (the 
acting commander of the 91st Infantry 
Division, whose general had died on 6 
June) became the local commander 
responsible for erecting a defense to halt 
the expected drive to the south. 

Koenig had had available a total of 
about 3,500 combat effective soldiers of 
several units: remnants of the 91st and 
243d Divisions, a kampfgruppe of the 
265th Division (from Brittany), and mis- 
cellaneous elements including Osttrup- 
pen, non-German volunteers from east- 
ern Europe. Together, the troops com- 
posed about half the effective combat 
strength of a fresh infantry division. 
With these few forces, but with adequate 
artillery in support, Koenig had fash- 
ioned a line that utilized marshland as a 
defensive barrier. 

When Choltitz had taken command 
of the LXXXIV Corps, he had soon come 
to the conclusion that he could not 
depend on Koenig to hold for long. 
American paratroopers of the 8 2d Air- 
borne Division had actually penetrated 
the marsh line as early as 12 June. 12 
Koenig's forces were too weak to 



11 Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 413ft; 
Hodgson, R-24, R-34, and R-49. 

12 Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, p. 402. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



59 



eliminate the penetration or to hold the 
positions already seriously threatened. 
The Osttruppen were not always reli- 
able. 13 Besides, Choltitz felt that the 
high ground near la Haye-du-Puits was 
better defensive terrain. He therefore 
had his reserve units— the 353d Division, 
which had just arrived from Brittany, 
and remnants of the jjth Division— 
establish positions on the Montgardon 
ridge and on Mont Castre. The ridge 
defenses, sometimes called the Mahl- 
mann Line after the commander of the 
35 3d, were hastily organized because of 
anxiety that the Americans might attack 
at any moment. When the positions 
were established, Choltitz regarded them 
as his main line of resistance. Think- 
ing of Koenig's troops as manning an 
outpost line, he expected them to resist 
as long as possible and eventually to fall 
back to the ridge line. 

In contrast with Choltitz's idea, Rund- 
stedt had recommended that the main 
line of resistance be established even 
farther back— at the water line formed 
by the Ay and Seves Rivers. Although 
Choltitz did not place troops there, he 
considered the water line a convenient 
rally point in case withdrawal from the 
la Haye-du-Puits positions became 
necessary. 14 Hitler, who disapproved of 
all defensive lines behind the front be- 
cause he feared they invited withdrawal, 
wanted Koenig's positions to be held 
firmly. To inculcate the idea of hold- 
ing fast, he had Koenig's defenses desig- 
nated the main line of resistance. With 



13 Telecon, Choltitz to Hausser, 30 Jun, Sev- 
enth Army Tel Msgs. 

14 Pz Lehr Div lb KTB, Allg. Anlagen, Annex 
241; see MS # B-418 (Choltitz) for an account of 
LXXXIV Corps activity, 18 Jun to 15 Jul. Choltitz, 
Soldat unter Soldaten, p. 187 is rather confused. 



Koenig's marsh line marked on maps as 
the main defenses in the area, the fresh 
troops of the 353d Division seemed un- 
occupied. In order to use them, OKW 
ordered Hausser to have Choltitz move 
the 35 3d to replace the panzer grenadiers 
in the eastern portion of the corps sector. 
The panzer grenadiers were to dis- 
engage and become a mobile reserve for 
the Seventh Army. With the 353d 
scheduled to depart the high ground 
around la Haye-du-Puits, Choltitz had to 
reduce the Mahlmann Line to the reality 
of a rally line manned entirely by the 
kampfgruppe of the yyth. 

By 3 July the 77th Division troops 
had moved to the eastern part of Mont 
Castre, while the 35 3d was moving from 
ridge positions to assembly near Periers. 
The VIII Corps attack thus occurred at 
a time of flux. Members of the 
LXXXIV Corps staff had correctly 
assumed, from the noise of tank motors 
they heard during the night of 2 July, 
that an American attack was in the mak- 
ing, and they had laid interdictory fires 
on probable assembly areas. But judg- 
ing that the rain would delay the jump- 
off— on the basis that bad weather neu- 
tralized American air power— the Seventh 
Army staff mistakenly labeled the VIII 
Corps offensive only a reconnaissance 
in force with tank support. The real 
American intention soon became ap- 
parent to both headquarters, however, 
and Hausser and Choltitz recalled the 
353d Division from Periers and reposi- 
tioned the men on the high ground 
about la Haye-du-Puits. 15 Hitler's desires 
notwithstanding, these positions became 
the main line of resistance. 



16 Seventh Army and AGp B KTB's, 3 Jul; Tages- 
meldungen, OB WEST KTB, Anlage 433. 



60 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



As a result of the last-minute changes 
that occurred on 3 July, the Germans 
opposing VIII Corps were able to 
defend from positions in depth. Fanned 
out in front was Group Koenig, with 
parts of the 91st, the 265th, and the 
243d Divisions on the flanks, and east 
European volunteers (including a large 
contingent of Russians) generally hold- 
ing the center. Artillery support was 
more than adequate— the entire division 
artillery of the 243 d, plus two cannon 
companies, five antitank companies, a 
complete tank destroyer battalion, and 
an assortment of miscellaneous howitz- 
ers, rocket launchers, antiaircraft bat- 
teries, captured Russian guns, and sev- 
eral old French light tanks. Behind 
Group Koenig, the 353d and a kampf- 
gruppe of the 77th were to defend the 
high ground of the Montgardon ridge 
and Mont Castre. The 2d SS Panzer 
Division, assembling well south of St. 
L6 in Seventh Army reserve, was able 
to move, if needed, to meet a serious 
threat near la Haye-du-Puits. 16 Even 
closer, in the center of the LXXXIV 
Corps sector, south of Periers, was one 
regiment (the 15th) of the 5th Para- 
chute Division (still in Brittany). 
Although under OKW control, it could 
probably be used in an emergency to 
augment the la Haye-du-Puits defenses. 
All together, the German forces were 
far from being a pushover. 

Poterie Ridge 

In the VIII Corps attack, the 82d Air- 
borne Division had the relatively modest 
role of securing a limited objective be- 



™AGp B Id Memo, 4 Jul, AGp B la Op. 

Befehle. 



fore departing the Continent for Eng- 
land. Having fought on French soil 
since D Day, the airborne division had 
lost about half its combat strength. Yet 
it still was an effective fighting unit, 
with three parachute infantry regiments 
and one glider infantry regiment form- 
ing the principal division components. 

The troops had been carefully selected 
for airborne training only after meeting 
special physical and mental standards. 
The division had participated in World 
War II longer than most units in the 
European theater, and its members 
regarded with pride their achievements 
in Sicily and Italy. To an esprit de 
corps that sometimes irritated others by 
its suggestion of superiority, the aggres- 
sive veterans added a justifiable respect 
and admiration for their leaders. Maj. 
Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, the division 
commander, displayed an uncanny 
ability for appearing at the right place 
at the right time. His inspiring 
presence, as well as that of the assistant 
division commander, Brig. Gen. James 
M. Gavin, was responsible in no small 
degree for the efficiency of the unit. 17 

In the center of the VIII Corps sector, 
the 82d Airborne Division held a line 
across the tip of a "peninsula" of dry 
ground. In order to commit a max- 
imum number of troops at once, Gen- 
eral Ridgway planned to sweep his sector 
by attacking westward— between marsh- 
land on the north and the la Haye-du- 
Puits-Carentan road on the south— to 
take the hills just east of the St. Sauveur- 
le-Vicomte-la Haye-du-Puits road, which 
separated the airborne division's zone 



17 The division journals and other records give 
ample evidence of the high regard the men had for 
their leaders. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



61 



from that of the 79th Division. The 
terrain was hedgerowed lowland, with 
half a dozen tiny settlements and many 
farmhouses scattered throughout the 
countryside; there were no main roads, 
only rural routes and sunken lanes. 

In the early hours of 3 July, even be- 
fore the artillery preparation that 
signaled the start of the First Army offen- 
sive, a combat patrol made a surprise 
thrust. Guided by a young Frenchman 
who had served similarly in the past, a 
reinforced company of the 505th Para- 
chute Infantry (Lt. Col. William 
Ekman) slipped silently along the edge 
of the swamp and outflanked German 
positions on the north slope of Hill 131. 
At daybreak the company was in the 
midst of a German outpost manned by 
Osttruppen. Startled, the outpost with- 
drew. The main body of the regiment 
arrived by midmorning and gained the 
north and east slopes of the hill. Four 
hours later the 505th was at the St. 
Sauveur-le-Vicomte-la Haye-du- Puits 
road and in possession of the northern 
portion of the division objective. The 
regiment had taken 146 prisoners and 
had lost 4 dead, 25 wounded, and 5 
missing. 18 

The 508th Parachute Infantry (Col. 
Roy E. Lindquist) had similar success in 
gaining the southeast face of Hill 
131, and a battalion of the 507 th Para- 
chute Infantry (Col. Edson D. Raff) 
cleared its assigned sector. The leading 
units moved so rapidly that they by- 
passed enemy troops who were unaware 
that an attack was in progress. Though 
the U.S. follow-up forces had the un- 



16 The account of operations is taken from the 
official records of the division and the regiments. 



expected and nasty task of clearing small 
isolated groups, the leading units were 
at the base of the objective by noon and 
several hours later were ensconced on 
the slope. Casualties were few. 

On the left the story was different. 
Making the main division effort, the 
325th Glider Infantry (Col. Harry L. 
Lewis) was to move west to the base of 
the Poterie ridge, then up and down 
across each of the triplet hills. After a 
slow start caused by enemy mines, the 
regiment moved rapidly for a mile. At 
this point the advance stopped— two 
miles short of the eastern slope of the 
Poterie ridge. One supporting tank 
had hit a mine, three others were floun- 
dering in mudholes, and German fire 
rained down from the slopes of Mont 
Castre, off the left flank. 

It did not take long for General Ridg- 
way to recognize the reason for easy suc- 
cess of the regiments on the right and 
the difficulty of the 325th. While the 
parachute regiments on the right were 
rolling up the German outpost line, the 
glider men had struck the forward edge 
of the German main line of resistance. 
At the same time, they were exposed to 
observed enfilading fire from Mont 
Castre. 

To deal with this situation, Ridgway 
directed the 325th commander to 
advance to the eastern edge of the 
Poterie ridge. Using this position as a 
pivot, the other regiments of the divi- 
sion were to wheel southward from their 
earlier objectives and hit the triplet hills 
from the north in frontal attacks. 

Colonel Lewis renewed the attack dur- 
ing the evening of 3 July, and although 
the glider men advanced over a mile and 
a half, they were still 600 yards short of 



62 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



their objective when resistance and dark- 
ness forced a halt two hours before mid- 
night. When another effort on the 
morning of 4 July brought no success, 
General Ridgway ordered the wheeling 
movement by the other regiments to 
begin. Each battalion of the 508th was 
to attack one of the triplet hills while 
the 505th moved south along the divi- 
sion boundary to protect the open right 
flank. 

Problems immediately arose when 
two battalions of the 508th and the glid- 
er regiment disputed the use of a 
covered route of approach. Because of 
the delay involved in co-ordinating the 
route and because of withering fire from 
both the Poterie ridge and Mont Castre, 
the two battalions made little progress 
during the day. The third battalion, 
on the other hand, had by noon gained 
a position from which it could assault 
the westernmost eminence, Hill 95. 
Following an artillery preparation rein- 
forced by corps guns, two rifle com- 
panies made a double envelopment 
while the third attacked frontally. The 
battalion gained the crest of the hill but, 
unable to resist the inevitable counter- 
attack that came before positions could 
be consolidated, withdrew 800 yards and 
re-formed. 

Meanwhile, troops of the 505th moved 
south along the division boundary, 
advancing cautiously. Reaching the 
base of Hill 95 that evening, the regi- 
ment made contact with the 79th Divi- 
sion and set up positions to control the 
St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte-la Haye-du-Puits 
road. 

His battalions now in direct frontal 
contact with the German positions but 
operating at a disadvantage under Ger- 
man observation, General Ridgway 



ordered a night attack. As darkness 
fell on 4 July, the men moved up the 
hedgerowed and unfamiliar slopes of the 
Poterie ridge. The 325th Glider In- 
fantry secured its objective on the east- 
ern slope of the ridge with little diffi- 
culty. The battalion of the 508th Para- 
chute Infantry that had taken Hill 95 
during the afternoon only to lose it 
walked up the slope and secured the 
crest by dawn. A newly committed 
battalion of the 507th Parachute Infan- 
try, moving against the easternmost hill, 
had trouble maintaining control in the 
darkness, particularly after making con- 
tact with the enemy around midnight. 
Withdrawing to reorganize, the battalion 
commander sent a rifle company to 
envelop the hill from the east while he 
led the remainder of his force in a flank 
approach from the west. Several hours 
after daylight on 5 July the two parties 
met on the ridge line. The Germans 
had withdrawn. 

Another battalion of the 507th moved 
against the center hill of the Poterie 
ridge, with one company in the lead as 
a combat patrol. Reaching the crest 
without interference and assuming that 
the Germans had retired, the advance 
company crossed the ridge line and 
formed a defensive perimeter on the 
south slope. Daybreak revealed that 
the men were in a German bivouac area, 
and a confused battle took place at close 
range. The remainder of the battalion, 
which had stayed on the north slope, 
hurried forward at the sound of gunfire 
to find friend and foe intermingled on 
the ridge. Not until afternoon of 5 July 
did the battalion establish a consolidated 
position. 19 

"Pfc. James L. Geach of the 325th Glider In- 
fantry, though he had never handled a rocket 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



63 



During the afternoon the 8 2d Air- 
borne Division reported Hill 95 cap- 
tured and the Poterie ridge secure. 
Small isolated German pockets remained 
to be cleared, but this was a minor task 
easily accomplished. Maintaining con- 
tact with the 79th Division on the right 
and establishing contact with the 90th 
Division in the valley between the 
Poterie ridge and Mont Castre on the 
left, the 82d Airborne Division assumed 
defensive positions. 

In advancing the line about four miles 
in three days, the airborne division had 
destroyed about 500 enemy troops, taken 
772 prisoners, and captured or destroyed 
two 75-mm. guns, two 88-mm. antitank 
guns, and a 37-mm. antitank weapon. 
The gains had not been without serious 
cost. The 325th Glider Infantry, which 
was authorized 135 officers and 2,838 
men and had an effective strength of 
55 officers and 1,245 men on 2 July* 
numbered only 41 officers and 956 men 
four days later; the strongest rifle com- 
pany had 57 men, while one company 
could count only 12. Casualties sus- 
tained by this regiment were the highest, 
but the depletion of all units attested to 
the accuracy of German fire directed 
from superior ground. 

By the morning of 7 July, all enemy 
pockets had been cleared in front of 
the airborne division. Lying in the 
rain-filled slit trenches, the men "began 
to sweat out the much-rumored trip to 
England." 20 The probability appeared 



launcher, seized a bazooka and fired several rounds, 
forcing two enemy tanks to withdraw. He was 
awarded the DSC. 

20 William G. Lord, II, History of the 508th Para- 
chute Infantry (Washington: Infantry Journal, 
Inc., 1948) , p. 37. 



good: two days earlier the 79th Division 
had briefly entered la Haye-du-Puits, 
the 90th had moved up the slopes of 
Mont Castre, and the 8th was almost 
ready to enter the lines. 

Mont Castre 

The action at the Poterie ridge was 
not typical of the VIII Corps attack 
launched on 3 July, for while the 8 2d 
Airborne Division swept an area rela- 
tively lightly defended, the 79th and 90th 
Divisions struck strong German positions 
in the la Haye-du-Puits sector. Trying 
to execute the V-shaped maneuver Gen- 
eral Middleton had projected, the in- 
fantry divisions hit the main body of the 
LXXXIV Corps on two major eleva- 
tions, the Montgardon ridge and Mont 
Castre. Their experience was char- 
acteristic of the battle of the hedgerows. 

The ability of the 90th Division, 
which was making the corps main effort 
on the left (east), was an unknown 
quantity before the July attack. The 
performance of the division during a 
few days of offensive action in June had 
been disappointing. The division had 
lacked cohesion and vigor, and its com- 
manding general and two regimental 
commanders had been relieved. Maj. 
Gen. Eugene M. Landrum, with expe- 
rience in the Aleutian Islands Campaign 
the preceding year, had assumed com- 
mand on 12 June and had attempted 
in the three weeks before the army offen- 
sive to reorganize the command and in- 
still it with aggressiveness. 21 



21 [Maj. Roland G. Ruppenthal], Utah Beach 
to Cherbourg, AFA Series (Washington, 1947) , p. 
129; Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 402-03. 



64 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



To reach his assigned portion of the 
corps intermediate objective, General 
Landrum had to funnel troops through 
a corridor a little over a mile wide— a 
corridor between Mont Castre on the 
west and the Prairies Marecageuses de 
Gorges on the east. His troops in the 
corridor would have to skirt the edge 
of the swampland and operate in the 
shadow of Mont Castre, a ridge about 
300 feet high extending three miles in 
an east— west direction. The western 
half of Mont Castre, near la Haye-du- 
Puits, was bare, with two stone houses 
standing bleakly in ruins on the north 
slope. The eastern half, densely wooded 
and the site of an ancient Roman en- 
campment, offered cover and conceal- 
ment on a height that commanded the 
neighboring flatland for miles. No 
roads mounted to the ridge line, only 
trails and sunken wagon traces— a maze 
of alleys through the somber tangle of 
trees and brush- If the Germans could 
hold the hill mass, they could deny 
movement to the south through the cor- 
ridor along the base of the eastern slope. 
Possession of Mont Castre was thus a 
prerequisite for the 90th Division 
advance toward Periers. 

Reflecting both an anxiety to make 
good and the general underestimation 
of German strength, General Landrum 
planned to start his forces south through 
the corridor at the same time he engaged 
the Germans on Mont Castre. The 
division was to attack with two simulta- 
neous regimental thrusts. The 359th 
Infantry (Col. Clark K. Fales), on the 
right, was to advance about four miles 
through the hedgerows to the thickly 
wooded slopes of Mont Castre, take the 
height, and meet the 79th Division south 



of la Haye-du-Puits. The 358th Infantry 
(Col. Richard C. Partridge), on the left, 
was to force the corridor between Mont 
Castre and the prairies. In possession 
of the high ground, in contact with the 
79th Division, and holding the corridor 
east of Mont Castre open, General Land- 
rum would then commit the 357th In- 
fantry (Col. George H. Barth) through 
the corridor to the initial corps objec- 
tive. 

To provide impetus across the hedge- 
rowed lowlands, General Landrum 
ordered the 357th, his reserve regiment, 
to mass its heavy weapons in support 
and the attached tanks and tank de- 
stroyers also to assist by fire. In addition 
to the organic artillery battalions, Gen- 
eral Landrum had a battalion of the 
corps artillery and the entire 4th Divi- 
sion Artillery attached; the 9th Division 
Artillery had been alerted to furnish fires 
upon request. 

The driving, drenching rain, which 
had begun early on 3 July, was still pour- 
ing down when the attack got under way 
at 0530. At first it seemed that progress 
would be rapid. Two hours later re- 
sistance stiffened. By the end of the 
day, although American troops had 
forced the Germans out of some posi- 
tions, the Seventh Army commander, 
Hausser, was well satisfied. His prin- 
cipal concern was his supply of artillery 
ammunition. 22 

The 90th Division advanced less than 
a mile on 3 July, the first day of attack, 
at a cost of over 600 casualties. 23 The 



22 Seventh Army and AGp B KTB's, 3 Jul. 

23 The account of tactical operations is based 
upon the official records (the After Action Reports, 
operations orders, periodic reports, and journals) 
of the" units involved. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



65 



Germans demonstrated convincingly, 
contrary to general expectation, that 
they intended and were able to make 
a stand. The 90th Division dented only 
the outpost line of resistance and had 
yet to make contact with the main de- 
fenses. "The Germans haven't much 
left," an observer wrote, "but they sure 
as hell know how to use it." 24 

If the Germans had defended with 
skill, the goth Division had not attacked 
with equal competence. Tankers and 
infantrymen did not work closely to- 
gether; commanders had difficulty keep- 
ing their troops moving forward; jumpy 
riflemen fired at the slightest movement 
or sound. 

The experience of Colonel Partridge's 
358th Infantry exemplified the action 
along the division front for the day. 
One of the two assault battalions of the 
regiment remained immobile all day 
long not far from the line of departure 
because of flanking fire from several 
German self-propelled guns. The other 
battalion moved with extreme caution 
toward the hamlet of les Sablons, a half- 
dozen stone farmhouses in a gloomy tree- 
shaded hollow where patrols on preced- 
ing days had reported strong resistance. 
As infantry scouts approached the vil- 
lage, enemy machine gun and artillery 
fire struck the battalion command post 
and killed or wounded all the wire com- 
munications personnel. Unable to re- 
pair wire damaged by shellbursts, the 
unit commanders were without tele- 
phones for the rest of the day. 

Judging the enemy fire to be in large 



24 Penciled ltr to Brig Gen Claude B. Ferenbaugh 
(n.d.) , 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File. 



volume, Colonel Partridge withdrew the 
infantry a few hundred yards and re- 
quested that division artillery "demolish 
the place" with white phosphorus and 
high-explosive shells. The artillery 
complied literally, and at noon riflemen 
were moving cautiously through the 
village. Ten minutes later several 
enemy tracked vehicles appeared as if by 
magic from behind nearby hedgerows. 
A near panic ensued as the infantrymen 
fled the town. About twelve engineers 
who were searching for mines and booby 
traps were unable to follow and sought 
shelter in the damaged houses. 

To prevent a complete rout, Partridge 
committed his reserve battalion. Un- 
fortunately, several light tanks following 
the infantry became entangled in con- 
certina wire and caused a traffic jam. 
Anticipating that the Germans would 
take advantage of the confusion by 
counterattacking with tanks, Partridge 
ordered a platoon of tank destroyers to 
bypass les Sablons in order to fire into 
the flank of any hostile force. He also 
called three assault guns and three pla- 
toons of the regimental antitank com- 
pany forward to guard against enemy 
tanks. The 315th Engineer Combat Bat- 
talion contributed a bazooka team to 
help rescue the men trapped in the vil- 
lage. 

The Germans did not attack, and in 
midafternoon Partridge learned that only 
one assault gun and two half-tracked 
vehicles were holding up his advance. 
It was late afternoon before he could 
act, however, for German shells con- 
tinued to fall in good volume, the soft 
lowland impeded the movement of anti- 
tank weapons, and the presence of the 
American engineers in les Sablons in- 



66 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



hibited the use of artillery fire. After 
the engineers had worked their way to 
safety, Partridge at last brought co- 
ordinated and concentrated tank, artil- 
lery, and infantry fire on the area, and a 
rifle company finally managed to push 
through les Sablons that evening. 
Colonel Partridge wanted to continue his 
attack through the night, but an enemy 
counterthrust at nightfall, even though 
quickly contained, convinced General 
Landrum that the regiment had gone 
far enough. 

The excellent observation that had 
enabled the Germans to pinpoint 90th 
Division activity during the day allowed 
them to note the American dispositions 
at dusk. Through the night accurate fire 
harassed the division, rendering re- 
organization and resupply difficult and 
dangerous. 

Resuming the attack on 4 July, the 
90th Division fired a ten-minute artillery 
preparation shortly after daybreak. The 
German reaction was immediate: coun- 
terbattery fire so intense that subordinate 
commanders of the 90th Division looked 
for a counterattack. Not wishing to 
move until the direction of the German 
thrust was determined, the regimental 
commanders delayed their attacks. It 
took vociferous insistence by General 
Landrum to get even a part of the divi- 
sion moving. No German counter- 
attack materialized. 

Colonel Fales got his 359th Infantry 
moving forty-five minutes after the 
scheduled jump-off time as a surprising 
lull in the German fire occurred. 
Heading for Mont Castre, the infantry 
advanced several hundred yards before 
the enemy suddenly opened fire and 
halted further progress. Uneasy specu- 



lation among American riflemen that 
German tanks might be hiding nearby 
preceded the appearance of three 
armored vehicles that emerged from 
hedgerows and began to fire. The in- 
fantrymen withdrew in haste and some 
confusion. 

Through most of the day, all attempts 
to advance brought only disappoint- 
ment. Then, at dusk, unit commanders 
rallied their men. Unexpectedly the 
regiment began to roll. The advance 
did not stop until it had carried almost 
two miles. 25 

The sudden slackening of opposition 
could perhaps be explained by several 
factors: the penetration of the airborne 
troops to the Poterie ridge, which men- 
aced the German left; the heavy losses 
sustained mostly from the devastating 
fire of American artillery; and the lack 
of reserves, which compelled regrouping 
on a shorter front. With great satisfac- 
tion the Germans had reported that their 
own artillery had stopped the 90th Divi- 
sion attack during the morning of 4 
July, but by noon the LXXXIV Corps 
was battling desperately. Although two 
battalions of the 265th Division (of 
Group Koenig), the 77th Division 
remnants, and a battalion of the 353d 
Division succeeded in denying the 
approaches to Mont Castre throughout 
4 July, the units had no local reserves 
to seal off three small penetrations that 
occurred during the evening. Only by 
getting OKW to release control of the 



25 Capt. Leroy R. Pond, a battalion com- 
mander, and Pvt. Barney H. Prosser, who 
assumed command of a rifle company (upon the 
loss of all the officers) and two leaderless platoons 
of another company, were key figures in the 
advance. Both were awarded the DSC. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



67 



15th Parachute Regiment and by com- 
mitting that regiment at once was the 
Seventh Army able to permit the 
LXXXIV Corps to refashion its defen- 
sive line that night. 26 

Despite their difficulties, the Germans 
continued to deny the 90th Division en- 
trance into the corridor between Mont 
Castre and the swamp. German fire, in- 
filtrating riflemen, and the hedgerows 
were such impediments to offensive 
action that Colonel Partridge postponed 
his attack several times on 4 July. Most 
of his troops seemed primarily con- 
cerned with taking cover in their slit 
trenches, and American counterbattery 
fire seemed to have little effect on the 
enemy weapons. 

When part of the 358th Infantry was 
pinned down by enemy artillery for 
twenty minutes, the division artillery in- 
vestigated. It discovered that only one 
enemy gun had fired and that it had fired 
no more than ten rounds. Despite this 
relatively light rate of fire, one rifle 
company had lost 60 men, many of them 
noncommissioned officers. The com- 
manding officer and less than 65 men 
remained of another rifle company. 
Only 18 men, less than half, were left 
of a heavy weapons company mortar 
platoon. A total of 125 casualties from 
a single battalion had passed through 
the regimental aid station by midafter- 
noon, 90 percent of them casualties from 
artillery and mortar shelling. Tired 
and soaking wet from the rain, the rifle- 
men were reluctant to advance in the 
face of enemy fire that might not have 
been delivered in great volume but that 
was nonetheless terribly accurate. 



20 OB WEST KTB, 1330, 4 Jul; Seventh Army 
KTB, 4 Jul, and Tagesmeldungen, 5 Jul. 



Although German fire continued, the 
358th Infantry got an attack going late 
in the afternoon toward the corridor. 
With the aid of strong artillery support 
and led by Capt. Phillip H. Carroll, who 
was wounded in one eye, the infantry 
moved forward several hundred yards to 
clear a strongpoint. 27 By then it was 
almost midnight. Because the units 
were badly scattered and the men com- 
pletely exhausted, Colonel Partridge 
halted the attack. Long after midnight 
some companies were still organizing 
their positions. 

On its second day of attack, 4 July, 
the 90th Division sustained an even 
higher number of casualties than the 
600 lost on the first day. 28 Mont Castre, 
dominating the countryside, "loomed 
increasingly important." Without it, 
the division "had no observation; with 
it the Boche had too much." 29 

More aware than ever of the need for 
Mont Castre as a prerequisite for an 
advance through the corridor, General 
Landrum nevertheless persisted with his 
original plan, perhaps because he felt 
that the Germans were weakening. 
Judging the 358th Infantry too depleted 
and weary for further offensive action, 
he committed his reserve regiment, the 
357th, on 5 July in the hope that fresh 
troops in the corridor could outflank 
Mont Castre. 

The 357th Infantry had only slight 
success in the corridor on 5 July, the 



27 Captain Carroll was awarded the DSC. 

28 90th Div AAR, Jul. FUSA Daily Estimated 
Loss Reports, July, gives 549 casualties sustained 
by the organic units on 4 July as contrasted with 
382 reported for the previous day, but the figures 
for both days were incomplete. 

29 goth Div AAR, Jul. 



68 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



third day of the attack, but on the right 
the 359th registered a substantial gain. 
Good weather permitted tactical air sup- 
port and observed artillery fires, and 
with fighter-bombers striking enemy 
supply and reinforcement routes and 
artillery rendering effective support, the 
regiment fought to the north and north- 
east slopes of Mont Castre in a series of 
separate, close-range company and pla- 
toon actions. Still the Germans con- 
tinued to resist aggressively, launching 
repeated local counterattacks. 30 The 
failure of the 357th Infantry to force the 
corridor on the left and the precarious 
positions of the 359th on the slopes of 
Mont Castre at last compelled General 
Landrum to move a battalion of the 
358th Infantry to reinforce his troops on 
Mont Castre, the beginning of a gradual 
shift of division strength to the right. 

Colonel Fales on 6 July sent a battal- 
ion of his 359th Infantry in a wide en- 
velopment to the right. Covered by a 
tactical air strike and artillery fire and 
hidden by hedgerows on the valley floor, 
the infantry mounted the northern slope 
of Mont Castre. At the same time, the 
other two battalions of the 359th and a 
battalion of the 358th advanced toward 
the northeastern part of the hill mass. 
Diverted by the wide envelopment that 
threatened to encircle their left and 
forced to broaden their active front, the 
Germans fell back. The result was that 
by nightfall four battalions of U.S. in- 
fantry were perched somewhat precar- 
iously on Mont Castre. Not only did 
General Landrum have possession of 
the high ground, he also owned the high- 
est point on the ridge line— Hill 122. 



Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 5 Jul. 



Success, still not entirely certain, was 
not without discomfiture. The wide 
envelopment had extended the 90th 
Division front. A roving band of Ger- 
mans on the afternoon of 6 July had dis- 
persed a chemical mortar platoon oper- 
ating in direct support of an infantry 
battalion, thus disclosing gaps in the 
line, and had harassed supply and com- 
munications personnel, thus revealing 
the tenuous nature of the contact be- 
tween the forces in the valley and those 
on the high ground. 31 To fill the gaps 
and keep open the supply routes, Gen- 
eral Landrum committed the remaining 
two battalions of the 358th Infantry in 
support of his units on Mont Castre, 
even though concentrating the weight 
of his strength on the right deprived the 
troops on the left of reserve force. Two 
complete regiments then comprised a 
strong division right. 

The decision to reinforce the right 
did not entirely alleviate the situation. 
The terrain impeded efforts to con- 
solidate positions on the high ground. 
Underbrush on the eastern part of the 
hill mass was of such density and height 
as to limit visibility to a few yards and 
render movement slow. The natural 
growth obscured terrain features and 
made it difficult for troops to identify 
their map locations and maintain con- 
tact with adjacent units. The incline 
of the hill slope, inadequate trails, and 
entangling thickets made laborious the 
task of bringing tanks and antitank guns 
forward. 32 

Evacuation of the wounded and 
supply of the forward troops were haz- 



81 90th Div G-3 Jnl, 0255, 7 Jul. 
32 90th Div G-3 Jnl, 2330, 6 Jul; Lt Col Charles 
H. Taylor's Notes on Mont Castre, ML-1071. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



69 



ardous because obscure trails as well as 
the main routes were mined and be- 
cause many bypassed or infiltrating Ger- 
mans still held out in rear areas. The 
understrength infantry battalions were 
short of ammunition, water, and food. 
Seriously wounded soldiers waited hours 
for transportation to medical installa- 
tions. One regiment could hardly 
spare guards or rations for a hundred 
German prisoners. Vehicles attempt- 
ing to proceed forward came under small 
arms and artillery fire. Much of the re- 
supply and evacuation was accomplished 
by hand-carry parties that used tanks as 
cargo carriers as far as they could go, 
then proceeded on foot. A typical 
battalion described itself as "in pretty 
bad shape. Getting low on am and 
carrying it by hand. Enemy coming 
around from all sides; had 3 tks with 
them. Enemy Arty bad. Ours has 
been giving good support. No report 
from [the adjacent] 1st Bn." 33 Gen- 
eral Landrum relieved one regimental 
commander, who was physically and 
mentally exhausted. About the same 
time the other was evacuated for 
wounds. 

Rain, which began again during the 
evening of 6 July, added to General 
Landrum's concern. Conscious of the 
enemy's prior knowledge of the terrain 
and his skillful use of local counter- 
attack at night as a weapon of defense, 
General Landrum drew on the regiment 
engaged in the corridor to shift a battal- 
ion, less one rifle company, to reinforce 
Mont Castre and alerted his engineers 
for possible commitment as infantry. 

83 90th Div G-3 Jnl, 2340, 6 Jul; Engr Opns, 
2000, 5 Jul, 90th Div G-3 Jnl File; 315th Engr Com- 
bat Bn Jnl, 1530, 6 Jul, and 0020, 7 Jul; 358th Inf 
Jnl, 7 Jul. 



General Landrum's anxiety was justi- 
fied, for the enemy counterattacked 
repeatedly during the dark and rainy 
night, but on the morning of 7 July the 
90th Division still possessed Hill 122 and 
the northeast portion of the ridge. One 
battalion summed up the action by 
reporting that it was "a bit apprehen- 
sive" but had "given no ground." 34 

Continuing rain, deep mud, and the 
difficulty of defining the enemy front 
hindered further attempts on 7 July to 
consolidate positions on Mont Castre. 
Judging the hold on the high ground 
still to be precarious, General Landrum 
placed all three lettered companies of 
the engineer battalion into the line that 
evening. 35 With the division recon- 
naissance troops patrolling the north 
edge of the Prairies Marecageuses de 
Gorges to prevent a surprise attack 
against the division left flank and rear, 
one battalion of the 357th Infantry, less 
a rifle company, remained the sole com- 
bat element not committed. During 
the night of 7 July General Landrum 
held onto this battalion, undecided 
whether the situation on Mont Castre 
was more critical than that which had 
developed during the past few days in the 
corridor on the left. 

In the corridor, Colonel Barth's 357th 
Infantry had first tried to advance along 
the eastern base of Mont Castre on the 
morning of 5 July. Shelling the regi- 
mental command post, the Germans 
delayed the attack for an hour and a 
half. When the fire subsided, Colonel 
Barth sent a battalion of infantry in a 
column of companies, supported by 



84 90th Div G— 3 Jnl, 0425, 7 Jul. 
35 90th Div Sitrep 58, 8 Jul; 315th Engr Combat 
Bn Jnl, Jul. 



70 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



tanks, toward the hamlet of Beaucou- 
dray, the first regimental objective. 

Between the regimental line of de- 
parture and Beaucoudray, a distance of 
about a mile, a tar road marked the axis 
of advance along a corridor bordered on 
the east by encroaching swamps, on the 
west by a flat, grassy meadow at the foot 
of Mont Castre. Near Beaucoudray, 
where the ruins of a fortified castle in- 
dicated that the terrain was tactically 
important a thousand years earlier, a 
slight ground elevation enhanced the 
German defense. The position on the 
knoll was tied in with the forces on 
Mont Castre. 

Aided by artillery, infantry and tanks 
entered the corridor on 5 July, knocked 
out a German self-propelled gun, and 
moved to within 1,000 yards of 
Beaucoudray before hostile artillery and 
mortar fire halted further advance. 
With inadequate space for the commit- 
ment of additional troops, the battalion 
in the corridor sought cover in the 
hedgerows while the enemy poured fire 
on the men. A platoon of 4.2-inch 
chemical mortars in support became dis- 
organized and returned to the rear. 

On 6 July, early morning mist and, 
later, artillery and mortar smoke shells 
enabled a rifle company to advance 
through Beaucoudray and outpost the 
hamlet. 36 This displacement created 
room for part of the support battalion. 
While two rifle companies north of 
Beaucoudray covered by fire, two other 
companies advanced several hundred 
yards south of the village. The result 
gave Colonel Barth good positions in the 
corridor— with three rifle companies 



39 The 357th Inf AAR, Jul, contains the follow- 
ing account in detail. 



south of Beaucoudray, two immediately 
north of Beaucoudray, and one at the 
entrance to the corridor, the regiment at 
last was ready to drive toward the divi- 
sion objective. 

The achievement was actually decep- 
tive. The troops were in a defile and 
in vulnerable positions. As nightfall 
approached and with it the increasing 
danger of counterattack, Colonel Barth 
moved his regimental antitank guns 
well to the front. His defense lost 
depth when General Landrum decided 
to move the battalion that constituted 
Barth's regimental reserve to reinforce 
the Mont Castre sector. Fortunately, 
Landrum left one company of the battal- 
ion in position north of the corridor as 
a token regimental reserve. 

The Germans, meanwhile, had rein- 
forced their positions in the la Haye-du- 
Puits sector with the 15th Parachute 
Regiment and had been making hurried 
attempts since 5 July to commit part of 
the 2d SS Panzer Division, the last of 
the Seventh Army reserve, in the same 
sector. To maintain their principal 
defenses, which were excellent, and 
allow reinforcements to enter them, the 
Germans had to remove the threat of 
encirclement that Colonel Barth's 357th 
Infantry posed in the corridor. Rem- 
nants of the yyth Division therefore pre- 
pared an attack to be launched from the 
reverse slope of Mont Castre. 37 

At 2315, 6 July, enemy artillery and 
mortar fire struck the right flank of the 
U.S. units in the corridor as a prel- 
ude to an attack by infantry and 
tanks. The American antitank weapons 
deployed generally to the front and 
south were for the most part ineffec- 

- Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 5-7 Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



71 



tive. 38 One of the three rifle companies 
south of Beaucoudray fell back on the 
positions of a company north of the vil- 
lage. The other company north of 
Beaucoudray fell back and consolidated 
with the company at the entrance to the 
corridor. The six rifle companies of the 
two battalions became three two-com- 
pany groups, two of them— those immedi- 
ately north and south of Beaucoudray— 
in close combat with the enemy. 
Fused together by the pressure of 
the German attack, the consolidated 
two-company units inside the corridor 
fought through a rainy, pitch-black night 
to repel the enemy. When morning 
came the group north of the village 
appeared to be in no serious danger, but 
the group south of Beaucoudray had 
been surrounded and cut off. 

To rescue the isolated group, Colonel 
Barth on 7 July mounted an attack by 
another rifle company supported by two 
platoons of medium tanks. Despite 
heavy casualties from mortar fire, the 
infantry reached the last hedgerow at 
the northern edge of Beaucoudray. 
There, the company commander com- 
mitted his supporting tanks. A mo- 
ment later the commander was struck by 
enemy fire. As the tanks moved up, 
the Germans launched a small counter- 
attack against the right flank. By this 
time all commissioned and noncommis- 
sioned officers of the company had been 
either killed or wounded. Deprived 
of leadership, the infantrymen and tank- 
ers fell back across the muddy fields. 
Difficulties of reorganizing under con- 
tinuing enemy fire prevented further 
attempts to relieve the encircled group 
that afternoon. 



357th Inf Jnl, 16 Jul. 



In quest of ammunition, a small party 
of men from the isolated group reached 
safety after traversing the swamp, but 
the battalion commander to whom they 
reported deemed the return trip too 
hazardous to authorize their return. In 
the early evening, radio communication 
with the surrounded companies ceased. 
Shortly afterward a lone messenger, 
after having made his way through the 
swampy prairies, reported that one 
company had surrendered after enemy 
tanks had overrun its command post. 
Although Colonel Barth made his re- 
serve company available for a night 
attack to relieve any survivors, the in- 
eptitude of a battalion commander kept 
the effort from being made. 

Sounds of battle south of Beaucoudray 
ceased shortly after daylight on 8 July. 
When six men, who had escaped through 
the swamp, reported the bulk of both 
companies captured or killed, Barth can- 
celed further rescue plans. 39 Appre- 
hensive of German attempts to exploit 
the success, he formed his regimental 
cooks and clerks into a provisional re- 
serve. 

After five days of combat the 90th 
Division had advanced about four miles 
at a cost of over 2,000 casualties, a loss 
that reduced the infantry companies to 
skeleton units. Though this was a high 
price, not all of it reflected inexperience 
and lack of organization. The division 
had tried to perform a difficult mission 
in well-organized and stubbornly de- 
fended terrain. The German defenders 
were of equal, perhaps superior numbers 
—approximately 5,600 front-line combat- 
effective troops of the 91st, 265th, 77th, 



88 The Germans took 250 men and 5 officers pris- 
oners. Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 8 Jul. 



72 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



and 353d Infantry Divisions, the 15th 
Parachute Regiment, and lesser units. 
The pressure exerted by the 90th Di- 
vision alone had forced LXXXIV Corps 
to commit all its reserve, Seventh Army 
to commit certain reserves, and OKW to 
release control of the parachute regi- 
ment, its only reserve in the theater. 
Wresting part of Mont Castre from 
the enemy had been no mean achieve- 
ment. Though fumbling and inepti- 
tude had marked the opening days of the 
July offensive, the division had displayed 
workmanship and stamina in the fight 
for Mont Castre. 

To commanders at higher echelons, 
possession of undeniably precarious posi- 
tions on Mont Castre and failure to have 
forced the Beaucoudray corridor seemed 
clear indications that the 90th Division 
still had to learn how to make a skillful 
application of tactical principles to 
hedgerow terrain. The division had 
demonstrated continuing deficiencies, 
hangovers from its June performance. 
Some subordinate commanders still 
lacked the power of vigorous direction. 
Too many officers were overly wary of 
counterattack. On the surface, at least, 
the division appeared to have faltered in 
July as it had in June. The conclusive 
evidence that impressed higher com- 
manders was not necessarily the failure 
to secure the initial objectives south of 
la Haye-du-Puits in five days, but the fact 
that by 8 July the division seemed to 
have come to a halt. 

Montgardon Ridge 

While the 90th Division had been at- 
tacking Mont Castre and probing the 
corridor leading toward Periers, the 79th 



Division, on the VIII Corps right, had 
made its effort along the west coast of 
the Cotentin. On the basis of the attack 
on Cherbourg in June, the 79th was con- 
sidered a good combat unit. 40 Imbued 
with high morale and commanded by 
the officer who had directed its training 
and baptism of fire, Maj. Gen. Ira T. 
Wyche, the division was in far better 
shape for the July assignment than was 
the 90th. 

During the first phase of the VIII 
Corps drive to Coutances, General 
Wyche was expected to clear his zone as 
far south as the Ay River estuary, seven 
miles away. He anticipated little diffi- 
culty. 41 To reach his objective, he had 
first to secure the high ground in his 
path near la Haye-du-Puits— the Mont- 
gardon ridge and its high point, the flat 
top of Hill 84. Capture of the height 
would give General Wyche positions 
dominating la Haye-du-Puits and the 
ground descending southward to the Ay, 
would make la Haye-du-Puits untenable 
for the Germans, and would permit the 
79th to meet the 90th approaching from 
the corps left. 

To take the Montgardon ridge, the 
79th Division had to cross six miles of 
hedgerowed lowland defended by rem- 
nants of the 243d Division and under 
the eyes of a battalion of the 353d Di- 
vision entrenched on the ridge. Only 
a frontal assault was possible. The di- 
vision was also to seize the incidental ob- 
jective of Hill 121, a mound near the 
left boundary that provided good obser- 
vation toward la Haye-du-Puits and 



40 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 

41 79th Div Intel Annex 2 to FO 5, 1 Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



73 



Montgardon. General Wyche planned 
to send the 314th Infantry against Hill 
121 on the left while the 315th moved 
toward the Montgardon ridge on the 
right. 

Attempting to outflank Hill 121, the 
314th Infantry (Col. Warren A. Robin- 
son) drove toward la Haye-du-Puits on 
the rainy morning of 3 July with a rifle 
company on each side of the main 
road. 42 Machine gun and mortar fire 
from a railway embankment parallel 
to the road stopped the leading units 
after a half-mile advance, but the heroic 
action of a single soldier, Pfc. William 
Thurston, got the attack moving again. 
Charging the embankment and elimi- 
nating the enemy machine gunners in 
one position with rifle fire, Thurston 
penetrated the German line and un- 
hinged it. 43 His companions quickly 
exploited the breach, and by the end of 
the afternoon they had gained about 
three miles. There, the leading bat- 
talion halted and set up blocking posi- 
tions to protect a separate advance on 
Hill 121. Another battalion that had 
followed was to turn left and approach 
the hill in a flanking maneuver from the 
southwest. 

A large bare mound, Hill 121 was 
adorned by a small ruined stone house 
reputed to be of Roman times, a ro- 
manesque chapel, and a water tower. 



42 Records of the 79th Division are sketchy. The 
After Action Report is in reality a daily sum- 
mary of each regimental effort. The G-3 Journal 
is thin. Combat Interviews 153 contains only frag- 
mentary material. The unofficial history of the 
314th Infantry, Through Combat, is helpful, and 
General Wyche has kindly made available his per- 
sonal journal. 

43 Thurston was awarded the DSC. 



Also visible were German fortifi- 
cations of sandbagged logs. Spearhead- 
ed by a twelve-man patrol, the battalion 
started toward the base of the hill at 
dusk. As the men disappeared into the 
hedgerows, the regimental commander 
lost communications with the command 
party. At 2300, when General Wyche 
instructed his regiments to halt for the 
night, no acknowledgment came from 
the men moving on Hill 121. Not until 
0230, 4 July, when an artillery liaison 
officer who apparently possessed the only 
working radio in the command reported 
the battalion closing on the objective did 
any word emerge. An hour later the 
same officer provided the encouraging 
news that the battalion was on the hill. 

Upon receipt of the first message, 
Colonel Robinson, the commander of 
the 314th, had immediately dispatched 
his reserve battalion to assist. At day- 
break both forces were clearing the 
slopes of Hill 121. The Germans had 
held the hill with only small outposts. 
By midmorning of 4 July Hill 121 
was secure. The division artillery had 
an excellent observation post for the 
battle of the Montgardon ridge and la 
Haye-du-Puits. On 4 July the 314th 
Infantry moved to within two miles of 
la Haye-du-Puits and that evening es- 
tablished contact with the 82d Airborne 
Division on the left. Because heavy 
German fire denied the regiment entry 
into la Haye-du-Puits, the infantry dug 
in and left the artillery to duel with the 
enemy. 

The artillery would be needed on the 
Montgardon ridge because the 315th 
Infantry (Col. Bernard B. McMahon) 
still had a long way to go toward that 
objective, despite encouraging progress 



74 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



during the morning of 3 July. With 
two battalions abreast and in columns 
of companies, the third echeloned to the 
right rear, and a company of tanks in 
close support, the regiment at first ad- 
vanced slowly but steadily; self-assurance 
and optimism vanished just before noon 
when three concealed and bypassed Ger- 
man armored vehicles on the coastal 
flank opened fire. The loss of several 
tanks promoted panic, and infantrymen 
streamed to the rear in confusion. 

Because artillery and antitank weap- 
ons reacted effectively, the disruption to 
the attack proved only temporary, al- 
though not until midafternoon were 
tanks and infantry sufficiently reorgan- 
ized to resume the attack. By nightfall 
the 315th had advanced a little over a 
mile. 

Movement through the hedgerows to- 
ward Montgardon was slow again on the 
second day of the attack until the obser- 
vation provided by the 314th Infantry's 
conquest of Hill 121 began to show ef- 
fect. Such good progress had been made 
by afternoon that the division artillery 
displaced its battalions forward. 

Not until evening, when the infantry 
was two miles short of Hill 84 and taking 
a rest, did the Germans react with other 
than passive defense. Enemy infantry 
supported by armored vehicles suddenly 
emerged from the hedgerows. Two rifle 
companies that had halted along a 
sunken road were temporarily surround- 
ed, but 50 men and 4 officers held firm 
to provide a bulwark around which the 
dispersed troops could be reorganized. 
As the division artillery went into ac- 
tion with heavy fire, the regiment built 
up a solid defensive perimeter. The 
Germans had counterattacked to cover 



a withdrawal of the 243d to the main 
line of defense on the Montgardon ridge. 
During the action the Germans took 
64 prisoners. 44 

Temporarily checked in the drive on 
the Montgardon ridge, General Wyche 
ordered the 314th Infantry to enter la 
Haye-du-Puits the next morning, 5 July, 
in the hope of outflanking the German 
positions on the high ground. Moving 
down mined and cratered roads to the 
northeastern outskirts of town, one com- 
pany formed a base of fire while another 
slipped into the railroad yard. The suc- 
cess was short-lived, for enemy artillery 
and mortar fire soon drove the company 
back. 

By midmorning of 5 July General 
Wyche had decided on a new, bold move, 
which he hoped might explode the di- 
vision out of its slow hedgerow-by-hedge- 
row advance and perhaps trap a sizable 
number of Germans north of the Ay 
River. He committed his reserve, the 
313th Infantry (Col. Sterling A. Wood), 
in a wide envelopment to the right, to 
pass across the western end of the Mont- 
gardon ridge and drive rapidly downhill 
to the Ay. 

Starting at noon on 5 July, the 313th 
Infantry moved toward the ridge with a 
two-company tank-infantry task force in 
the lead. Marshy terrain and lack of 
adequate roads slowed the movement. 
By late afternoon the task force was 
still several hundred yards short of the 
ridge. As the troops reached a water- 
filled ditch running through the center 
of a flat grassy meadow, they came under 
such a volume of artillery fire that the 



44 Seventh Army KTB, 5 Jul; MS # A-983 (Mahl- 
mann) . 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



75 



advance stalled. Just before dark the 
enemy counterattacked twice and drove 
the task force and the rest of the regi- 
ment several miles back in confusion. 
Before daybreak, 6 July, few would 
have attested either to the location or 
the integrity of the regiment. Merci- 
fully, the Germans did not exploit their 
success. The regiment found time to 
regroup. 

Disappointed in the results of the 
313th Infantry advance even before the 
counterattack, General Wyche late on 5 
July had again sent the 315th, supported 
by tanks and tank destroyers, directly 
against Hill 84. This time the regiment 
reached the north slope of the hill. The 
79th Division at last had a toehold on the 
highest part of the Montgardon ridge. 

To reinforce this success and prepare 
for final conquest of the ridge, General 
Wyche on 6 July jockeyed his other two 
regiments. He ordered the 314th to 
swing its right around la Haye-du-Puits 
and gain a foothold on the eastern slope. 
The regiment accomplished its mission 
during the morning. He turned the 
313th eastward from its location on the 
division right rear to positions in sup- 
port of the troops on Hill 84. By noon 
of 6 July, the fourth day of the attack, 
the 314th and 315th Regiments were on 
the northern and eastern slopes of Mont- 
gardon, while the 313th was echeloned 
to the right rear at the base of the ridge. 

In ordering all three regiments to at- 
tack during the afternoon to carry the 
crest, General Wyche bowed to the com- 
partmentalizing effect of the hedgerow 
terrain and told each commander to at- 
tack alone when ready. The technique 
worked. Although the 313th Infantry 
on the right gained no ground against 



strong positions protected by wire and 
mines, the 315th in the center overran 
Hill 84, and the 314th on the left com- 
pleted occupation of the eastern portion 
of the main ridge. By daybreak of 7 
July the 79th Division could note that 
la Haye-du-Puits was outflanked, that 
the Germans ought now to abandon the 
town, and that as soon as earlier advances 
were extended to cover the entire ridge, 
the division might head south toward 
the Ay River. 

It did not take long on 7 July for 
General Wyche and his subordinate 
commanders to realize that this kind of 
thinking was premature. The Germans 
held doggedly to the rest of the high 
ground. They also stayed in la Haye- 
du-Puits; an American patrol accompa- 
nied by a German prisoner who was re- 
cruited to talk the garrison into sur- 
render could not even get past the first 
houses. The Germans not only refused 
to budge from the high ground and the 
town, they prepared to attack. Having 
hurriedly reinforced the la Haye-du- 
Puits sector with a small portion of the 
2d SS Panzer Division, Choltitz launched 
his counterattack on the afternoon of 7 
July as armored contingents in about 
two-battalion strength assaulted the 
Montgardon ridge. 45 

The German armored troops struck 
with such violence and behind such a 
volume of supporting fire that the first 
blow almost pushed the 79th Division off 
the ridge. In an attempt to achieve 
better co-ordination between the two 
regiments on the main ridge, General 
Wyche placed both under one com- 



** Seventh Army KTB, 7 Jul. 



76 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



mander. The expedient worked. Soon 
the infantry, artillery, tanks, and tank 
destroyers began to execute a co-ordi- 
nated defense. Destruction of three 
German tanks appeared to extinguish 
the spark of the German drive. 46 By 
nightfall the Germans were stopped, but 
gone was the optimistic belief that a 
quick drive to the Ay would be possible. 

In five days of hedgerow fighting, the 
79th Division had attained the crest of 
the Montgardon ridge but was still short 
of the intermediate objective. Though 
the division casualties in the hedgerows 
had not been consistently high, the fight- 
ing on the high ground on 7 July alone 
resulted in over 1,000 killed, wounded, 
and missing. The cumulative total for 
five days of battle was over 2,ooo. 47 
Seriously depleted in numbers, its re- 
maining troops badly in need of rest, 
and some units close to demoralization 
in the face of seemingly incessant Ger- 
man shelling, the 79th Division was no 
longer the effective force that had 
marched to Cherbourg the preceding 
month. For the moment the 79th 
seemed no more capable of effective 
offensive combat than did the goth. 

Initiating the First Army offensive, the 
VIII Corps had failed to achieve the suc- 
cess anticipated. The Germans had 
indicated that they were prepared and 
determined to resist. They had given 
up little ground, defended stubbornly, 
and utilized the hedgerows and obser- 
vation points with skill. They had em- 
ployed their weapons on a scale not ex- 
pected by the Americans and had in- 



" FUSA G-3 Jnl, 7 Jul. 

"FUSA Daily Estimated Loss Rpt, Jul. 



flicted a large number of casualties. 
Although the VIII Corps took 543 
prisoners on 3 July, 314 on 4 July, 422 on 
5 July, and 203 on 6 July, they were in- 
ferior troops for the most part, non-Ger- 
manic eastern Europeans, and the corps 
could look forward to no sudden enemy 
collapse. 

The rain had been a severe handicap 
to the Americans. Although limited 
visibility gave the troops some measure 
of concealment and protection from the 
German fire, the weather had denied the 
corps the full use of its available re- 
sources in fire power and mobility. Not 
until the third day of the offensive had 
tactical air been able to undertake close 
support missions, and two days later re- 
curring poor weather conditions again 
had forced cancellation of extensive air 
support. Operations of the small ar- 
tillery observation planes were also 
limited by weather conditions. Finally, 
the rain had transformed the moist fields 
of the Cotentin into ponds of mud that 
immobilized in great part the motorized 
striking force of the American tracked 
and wheeled vehicles. 

The 82d Airborne Division had swept 
across an area for the most part lightly 
defended and had displayed a high de- 
gree of flexibility and effectiveness in 
meeting the problems of hedgerow war- 
fare. If the 79th and 90th Divisions 
seemed less adaptable and less profes- 
sional than the airborne troops, they had 
met enemy forces at least numerically 
equal in strength who occupied excellent 
defenses. The two infantry divisions 
had nevertheless by the end of 7 July 
breached the German main line of de- 
fense. By then, replacements untested 
by battle comprised about 40 percent of 



THE OFFENSIVE LAUNCHED 



77 



their infantry units. With both the 
79th and the 90th Division needing rest 
and the aggressive 82d Airborne Di- 
vision about to depart the Continent, its 
place to be taken by the inexperienced 



8th Division, VIII Corps could expect 
no sudden success. On the other hand, 
the Germans could anticipate no respite, 
for to the east the U.S. VII Corps in its 
turn had taken up the battle. 



CHAPTER V 



The Offensive Broadened 



The Carentan — Periers Isthmus 

In keeping with the desire of Generals 
Eisenhower and Montgomery to get the 
American offensive to the south under 
way, General Bradley had lost no time 
in redeploying the VII Corps from Cher- 
bourg. As the Cherbourg operation 
was ending on the last day of June, Brad- 
ley ordered the VII Corps headquarters 
to move to Carentan immediately to as- 
sume responsibility for an area on the 
left (east) of the VIII Corps. 1 

The new VII Corps sector, between 
the Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges and 
the flooded Taute River, covered the 
shallowest part of the Allied beachhead. 
Through Carentan passed the only high- 
way linking the U.S. troops in the 
Cotentin with the Allied forces east of 
the Taute River. The area was con- 
sidered the weakest and most sensitive 
part of the entire First Army front. 
(Map 4 ) 

A" road center and small seaport, 
Carentan was extremely vulnerable to 
German attack. The VII Corps posi- 
tions, facing southwest toward Periers, 
were only three and a half miles from 
the center of Carentan. A German 



1 Upon the request of the VII Corps commander, 
the corps rear area at Carentan was enlarged to 
give his artillery and other supporting troops 
necessary movement space and sufficient roadways. 
Sylvan Diary, 27 Jun. 



counterattack in mid-June had come to 
within 500 yards of retaking the town, 
and German field artillery continued to 
interdict the town and the highway 
bridge across the Taute River. 2 The 
First Army staff did not rule out the 
possibility that a determined German 
attack might overrun Carentan, cut the 
Allied beachhead in two, and deny the 
Allies lateral communication by land. 3 
Advancing the front line south of 
Carentan would eliminate these dangers 
and the nuisance of German shelling. 

More important than these defensive 
considerations was the offensive moti- 
vation. The VII Corps objective was a 
portion of the Coutances-St. L6 high- 
way. To reach the objective the corps 
had to pass through a narrow and well- 
defined corridor constricted by adjacent 
marshes. Resembling an isthmus two 
to three miles wide, the corridor between 
Carentan and Periers severely limited 
the amount of strength that corps could 
bring to bear. Only after reaching the 
Periers-St. L6 highway would VII Corps 
have adequate room for deploying its 
forces, and there, south of the Prairies 
Marecageuses de Gorges, the VII Corps 



2 [Ruppenthal] , Utah Beach to Cherbourg, pp. 
9°-93- 

3 German action would also threaten to bring 
unloading operations to a halt at Isigny, a minoT 
port receiving supplies seven miles east of Caren- 
tan. FUSA G-2 Est 7, 29 Jun. 




I>. &o/mGJ,./t-. 



MAP 4 



80 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



would be at a juncture with the VIII 
Corps. Continuing south, the two corps 
would come abreast at the Coutances- 
St. L6 highway, the final army objective. 
Should resistance disintegrate before 
the final objective was reached, General 
Bradley could use an armored division 
that he had in the army reserve to exploit 
the American success. 4 

General Bradley had thought of 
launching the VII Corps attack on 3 
July, at the same time the VIII Corps 
jumped off, but he had decided to help 
VIII Corps on its first day of operations 
by giving it temporary control of the VII 
Corps Artillery. He therefore post- 
poned the VII Corps effort until 4 July, 
when VII Corps was to regain control of 
its own artillery support. A battalion 
of 8-inch howitzers and several battalions 
of medium artillery from army were to 
reinforce the fires of the corps pieces. 5 

The VII Corps commander was Maj. 
Gen. J. Lawton Collins, who as a lieu- 
tenant colonel three years earlier had 
been the corps chief of staff. In the Pa- 
cific he had commanded the 25th Di- 
vision on Guadalcanal and New Georgia. 
The division code name, Lightning, 
seemed to describe General Collins' 
method of operation. As VII Corps 
commander, his direction of the invasion 
landings on Utah Beach and his vigorous 
prosecution of the Cherbourg campaign 
had reinforced the suitability of his nick- 
name, "Lightning Joe." Flushed with 
success and generating unbounded con- 
fidence, General Collins and his staff 
enthusiastically accepted the challenge 
presented by the new task assigned to the 
VII Corps. 

4 [2d Lt. David Garth], St.-Ld, AFA Series 
(Washington, 1946) , p. 5. 
6 VII Corps AAR, Jul; 83d Div AAR, Jul. 



The first problem that General Collins 
faced was how to use to best advantage 
in the constricted corps zone the three 
infantry divisions available to him. Re- 
taining the 4th and gth Infantry Di- 
visions, which had participated in the 
Cherbourg operation, Collins on 2 July 
took control of the 83d Infantry Di- 
vision, which was manning the Carentan 
sector. Little more than three miles 
from Carentan, one fourth of the way to 
Periers, the 83d Division held defensive 
positions across the narrow isthmus. 
Directing the 83d to advance a little 
over two miles to Sainteny, which was 
half way to Periers, Collins set the stage 
for committing at least part of another 
division. Hoping that the 83d Division 
would reach Sainteny in one day, he 
planned to have elements of the 4th Di- 
vision go on to Periers on the second 
day. If on reaching Sainteny the 83d 
did not make contact with the VIII 
Corps attacking along the western edge 
of the Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges, 
surely the 4th Division would meet the 
VIII Corps near Periers. At that point, 
if the 83d Division made a similar ad- 
vance, crossed the Taute River, and 
gained its assigned portion of the Pe- 
riers-St. L6 highway, enough terrain 
would be available to employ the gth 
Division. 

Though General Collins wanted the 
83d Division to reach Sainteny in a day, 
he nevertheless recognized that the width 
of the Carentan-Periers isthmus might 
enable comparatively few enemy troops 
to hold up forces of superior numbers. 
To reach Sainteny, the 83d Division 
had to squeeze through the narrow- 
est part, a neck scarcely two miles 
wide. Hedgerows restricted mechanized 
units to well-defined channels and gave 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



81 



the enemy ideal cover and concealment 
for delaying action. Except for the 
tarred highway to Periers and a lateral 
route between causeways, the roads on 
the isthmus were little better than wag- 
on trails. American observers had de- 
tected neither antitank ditches nor 
permanent fortifications, but they felt 
sure that the Germans had organized 
their positions to a depth of several miles 
and were covering all road junctions with 
machine guns. 6 

The Germans in the Periers sector, 
comprising part of the right (east) wing 
of the LXXXIV Corps, were under the 
local operational control of the head- 
quarters of the zyth SS Panzer Grena- 
dier Division, a tough, well-trained unit. 
The division had one of its two regi- 
ments holding positions below Carentan. 
Attached to it was the separate 6th Para- 
chute Regiment, a veteran though some- 
what depleted unit. The leadership of 
these forces was especially strong and 
experienced. 7 

Aware of the German units that faced 
the 83d Division, General Collins did 
not underestimate their fighting ability. 
He also realized that early morning 
marsh mist and the promise of con- 
tinuing rain would reduce the effective- 
ness of artillery support and diminish 
the help offered by tactical air. But he 
had no alternative to striking the Ger- 
mans frontally— terrain, unit boundaries, 
and the First Army plan made a frontal 
attack by the 83d Division inevitable. 



"VII Corps AAR, Jul, and FO 4, 3 Jul, with 
Intel Annex, 2 Jul. 

' OKH Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, 
Zustandberichte, SS Divisiones, Jun 43-Jul 44; MS 
# B-83g (von der Heydte) ; Harrison, Cross-Chan- 
nel Attack, pp. 356-65. 



Though the primary aim was a short 
advance to allow the commitment of a 
second division, Collins, with character- 
istic confidence, ordered the 83d to 
maintain the momentum of its attack; 
if the division destroyed the German de- 
fenses at once, it was to advance as far as 
the Taute River in the left (east) 
portion of the corps zone. 

The 83d Division had arrived in Nor- 
mandy in the latter part of June and 
under VIII Corps control had relieved 
the 101st Airborne Division (Maj. Gen. 
Maxwell D. Taylor) at Carentan. The 
airborne troops had moved into the army 
reserve to prepare for their return to 
England, but not before boasting of 
their accomplishments and exaggerating 
the toughness of the Germans to the 
novice infantrymen who replaced them. 
Some members of the new division 
became jittery. 8 Highly conscious of 
the division's inexperience, General Col- 
lins was to supervise its activities closely. 

The 83d Division commander, Maj. 
Gen. Robert C. Macon, who had com- 
manded a regiment in North Africa, had 
the problem of advancing units in terrain 
that could hardly have been less favor- 
able for offensive action. The almost 
incessant rain of the previous weeks had 
soaked the isthmus beyond saturation. 
As the drainage ditches swelled into 
streams and the swamps turned into 
ponds, the surface of the fields became 
a potential sheet of mud. Progress for 
foot troops would be difficult; cross- 
country movement by vehicles virtually 
impossible; movement of armor in close 
support most difficult; good direct fire 
support by tanks and tank destroyers 



8 Lt Col Henry Neilson, Hosp Intervs, III, GL- 
93 (238)- 



82 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



a noteworthy accomplishment; supply 
hazardous. 

To gain the greatest shock effect com- 
mensurate with his constricted zone, 
General Macon decided to commit two 
regiments abreast in columns of bat- 
talions. To advance down the Carentan 
-Periers road, the 331st Infantry (Col. 
Martin D. Barndollar, Jr.) was to attack 
along the right of the highway, while 
the 330th Infantry (Col. Ernest L. 
McLendon) attacked on the left. Col. 
Edwin B. Crabill's 329th Infantry (mi- 
nus one battalion) was to constitute the 
division reserve. One battalion of the 
329th was to clear a small area on the 
right flank at the edge of the Prairies 
Marecageuses de Gorges. Division fire 
power was to be augmented by the 9th 
Division Artillery, the 746th Tank and 
the 8o2d Tank Destroyer Battalions, the 
4. 2 -inch mortars of two companies of 
the 87th Chemical Battalion, and the 
quadruple .50-caliber machine guns of 
the 453d Antiaircraft Artillery Auto- 
matic Weapons Battalion. Eager to 
prove its competence and nervous about 
its impending trial in battle, the 83d 
Division celebrated the Fourth of July 
by firing a ten-minute artillery prepa- 
ration and then jumping off at day- 
break. 9 

Mishaps plagued the division from 
the start. Tanks in close support im- 
mediately "messed up" wires, and Gener- 
al Macon lost touch with his assault 
formations soon after they crossed the 
line of departure. Two hours later, the 
commander of the 331st, Colonel Barn- 
dollar, was dead with a bullet below his 



9 The following account is taken from official 
unit records. All quotations, unless otherwise 
noted, are from the valuable record of telephone 
conversations in the division G-2, G-3 Journal. 



heart. Soon afterwards, engineers at- 
tempting to clear paths through enemy 
mine fields were being picked off by 
enemy rifle fire. At midmorning, enemy 
infantrymen on the division right flank 
temporarily surrounded several tanks 
that were trying to advance over soft 
and muddy marshland. The division 
moved but a short distance toward Sain- 
teny, 200 yards at most, before German 
mortar and machine gun fire, from 
hedgerows and from log pillboxes rein- 
forced by sandbags, halted the attack. 

Following the action of the division 
from his corps command post, General 
Collins in midmorning became im- 
patient with the slow progress. He had 
assured General Macon that he would 
not interfere with the conduct of oper- 
ations, but when one infantry battalion 
waited for others to come abreast, Collins 
phoned the division headquarters and 
informed the chief of staff, "That's ex- 
actly what I don't want." What he did 
want was the battalion in the lead to cut 
behind the Germans who would then be 
forced to withdraw. "Don't ever let me 
hear of that again," General Collins 
warned, "and get that down to the regi- 
mental and battalion commanders and 
tell Macon about it." But telephonic 
exhortation, no matter how pertinent, 
could not blow down the defended 
hedgerows— nor, apparently, could the 
personal endeavors of General Macon 
and his assistant division commander, 
Brig. Gen. Claude B. Ferenbaugh, who 
had gone down to the regiments to press 
the attack. 

On the division right flank the bat- 
talion of the 329th Infantry attempting 
to clear the small area near the Prairies 
Marecageuses de Gorges had managed 
to advance about 1,000 yards. Two 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



83 



rifle companies had crossed a stream 
swollen by rain and overflowing its 
banks. The adjacent terrain had be- 
come virtual swamp, with some mud- 
holes waist deep. When the battalion 
commander tried to get his heavy weap- 
ons company across the stream just be- 
fore noon, enemy mortars and machine 
gun fire forced the men to hug the 
ground. Commitment of the reserve 
rifle company produced no effect since 
the riflemen could do no better than the 
machine gunners of the weapons com- 
pany in the face of the enemy fire. Tak- 
ing heavy casualties, unable to ma- 
neuver in the swampy terrain, and fear- 
ing attack from the rear by the same 
infiltrating Germans who had earlier 
isolated several tanks, the battalion com- 
mander ordered a withdrawal. The 
men moved back to their original line 
of departure. Upon reorganization, the 
battalion discovered that one rifle com- 
pany was almost a total loss; another 
could muster only one third of its 
strength. 10 Large numbers of stragglers 
intensified the impression of extreme 
losses. About fifty men of the battalion 
entered the division artillery positions 
during the afternoon and caused short- 
lived consternation by claiming to be 
the only survivors. Having lost most 
of its equipment in the swamp, the bat- 
talion remained on its line of departure 
to protect the division right flank. That 
evening it arranged a truce with the 
enemy, without authorization from 
higher headquarters, to collect its dead 
and wounded. 

Impatient over the division's lack of 



10 2d Battalion, 329th Infantry, Combat Digest 
(Germany, n.d.) , p. 15. 



progress, General Collins was infuriated 
when he learned of the battalion with- 
drawal on the division right. "Tell the 
CG," he informed the division chief of 
staff by telephone, "that I want the 
withdrawal investigated." Why make 
it necessary, he demanded, to lose more 
lives in forcing a crossing of the stream 
a second time? And when, he wanted 
to know, was the division going to 
launch a co-ordinated attack down the 
corridor? 

For all the strenuous efforts of the di- 
vision and assistant division commanders, 
the regiments were not ready for a con- 
certed attack until late afternoon. 
After two postponements, General 
Macon finally got it started. The di- 
vision artillery fired a preparation, and 
the two regiments attacked again down 
the Carentan-Periers road. They had 
made only minor advances before heavy 
artillery fire forced one regiment to pull 
back; a counterattack just before dark 
pushed back the other. 

The terrain and stubborn resistance 
had soured the Fourth of July cele- 
bration and had thwarted the 83d Di- 
vision in its attempt to advance beyond 
its outpost lines. "If the going is good, 
and it should be," General Macon had 
said, "we will have them rocked back, 
and will go right on." The going had 
not been good. Prepared defenses, ac- 
tive mortar fire, and extensive use of 
automatic weapons had been too effec- 
tive. Only six German prisoners had 
been taken. 

A count of personnel in the front-line 
positions of the 331st Infantry revealed 
only 300 men. The commander of the 
German parachute regiment in oppo- 
sition, Col. Friedrich A. Freiherr von der 



84 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Heydte, returned medical personnel his 
forces had captured, with a note stating 
that he thought General Macon needed 
them. 11 He was right. In its first day 
of combat the 83d Division had lost al- 
most 1,400 men. An accurate break- 
down of casualty figures was impossible. 
One regiment reported a total of 867 
casualties without attempting further 
classification. On the basis of such in- 
complete information, the division arbi- 
trarily categorized the total casualties 
and reported 47 killed, 815 wounded, 
and a surprising 530 missing in action. 
Many of the missing were stragglers 
and isolated troops who were later to re- 
join the division, but at the end of the 
first day the division had suffered a more 
than 10 percent loss. 12 

Although the 83d Division had failed 
to achieve its mission of allowing the 
VII Corps to commit a second division 
in the isthmus after the first day's action, 
General Collins had no alternative but 
to keep pushing. He ordered the at- 
tack to secure Sainteny to continue on 5 
July. General Macon changed his dis- 
positions but slightly. The 331st Infan- 
try, now commanded by Lt. Col. William 
E. Long, was to try again on the right 
of the Carentan-Periers road. Colonel 
McLendon's 330th Infantry, which had 

11 With caution, von der Heydte added that if 
the situation were ever reversed in the future, he 
hoped that General Macon would return the 
favor. Ltr, Ferenbaugh to OCMH, 20 May 53; MS 
# B-839 (Heydte). 

11 By 7 July the consolidated figure of those miss- 
ing in action declined to 243 (83d Div G-2, G-3 
Jnl) . Casualty figures in the sources available 
(FUSA Daily Estimated Loss Rpts, Jul; the 83d 
Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; the 83d Div G-4 Daily Rpts, G-4 
Jnl; and the 83d Div G-i AAR, Jul) are con- 
stantly at variance. Figures chosen for the text 
represent an estimate compiled from all sources. 
Discussions recorded in the telephone journal are 
valuable contemporary estimates. 



sustained the highest number of casual- 
ties, was to relinquish part of its zone to 
two battalions of Colonel Crabill's 329th 
Infantry. The third battalion of the 
329th would remain on the division's 
extreme right as flank protection. 

The attack on 5 July began on a dis- 
heartening, if exaggerated, note. Dur- 
ing the ten-minute artillery preparation, 
the executive officer of one of the regi- 
ments phoned division headquarters that 
the division artillery was "slaughtering 
our 3d Battalion." In reality, the regi- 
ment had received only a few short 
rounds. 

The division jumped off on schedule. 
Unfortunately, the attack that morn- 
ing repeated the unsuccessful pattern 
of the previous day. The troops made 
little progress. 

Restless and impatient in a situation 
that denied use of available strength, 
General Collins ordered General Macon 
to make room "or else." Since there 
was no place to go except forward, Macon 
had to insist on continuation of a costly 
frontal attack. That afternoon he be- 
gan to apply more pressure on his sub- 
ordinate commanders. "You tell him," 
General Macon ordered, "that he must 
take that objective and go right on down 
regardless of his flank; pay attention to 
nothing, not even communication." An 
hour later he instructed a regimental 
commander, "Never mind about the 
gap; keep that leading battalion going." 

When a battalion commander pro- 
tested that he had only about 400 men, 
General Macon assured him, "That is 
just what I need, 400 men; keep driving." 
In midafternoon a regimental com- 
mander reported infiltrating enemy. 
"They won't hurt you any," Macon 
promised. "They shoot us," the regi- 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



85 



mental commander explained. When 
he protested that one of his battalions 
consisted of only one and a half rifle 
companies and the heavy weapons com- 
pany, or about 300 men, the general sent 
the assistant division commander and 
two platoons of tanks to help the regi- 
ment clear the area. 

When another battalion commander 
reported what looked like a counter- 
attack, the general ordered, "Do not pay 
any attention to it; you must go on down 
[in attack.]" To a third battalion com- 
mander's protest that he had no reserve 
left, General Macon answered, "You go 
on down there and they [the enemy] 
will have to get out of your way." 

By evening the general was shouting. 
"To hell with the [enemy] fire, to 
hell with what's on your flank, get down 
there and take the area. You don't 
need any recon. You have got to go 
ahead. You have got to take that ob- 
jective if you have to go all night." 

All seemed in vain when General Col- 
lins telephoned that evening. "What 
has been the trouble?" he asked. 
"[You] haven't moved an inch." 
The trouble was the same: mud, ca- 
nalized routes of advance, and strong 
resistance. 

Just before dark the division did suc- 
ceed in reaching a hamlet half way to 
Sainteny, but the Germans would per- 
mit no celebration of the achievement. 
When accurate mortar and artillery 
fire battered the troops after dark, each 
of the two regiments lost contact with 
one of its battalions for several hours. 
When finally located during the early 
morning hours of 6 July, the battalions 
needed water, food, ammunition, litters, 
ambulances, and reinforcements. Nev- 



ertheless, the troops held on to their 
hard-won gains. 

In two days the 83d Division had dis- 
played almost all the weaknesses and 
made virtually all the mistakes of a unit 
new to combat. Poor reports from sub- 
ordinate units, incorrect map locations, 
and weak communications made accurate 
artillery support almost impossible and 
effective aid from the few tactical planes 
in the air on the second day difficult. 
Lax command control and discipline re- 
sulted in an inordinately large number 
of stragglers. Regimental and battalion 
commanders did not seem able to co- 
ordinate their attached units, institute 
reconnaissance in time, or press their 
attacks with vigor. Tank-infantry co- 
operation was especially bad, and mutual 
complaint and recrimination resulted. 
Infantrymen accused tankers of refusing 
to work at night and of disobeying or- 
ders with the excuse that they were only 
attached units, and at least one infantry 
commander threatened to shoot a tank 
officer for declining to advance in sup- 
port. On the other hand, the tankers 
had little confidence in the ability of 
the infantry to protect them from close- 
range counterattack, and at least one 
tank commander threatened to shoot 
infantrymen who seemed on the verge 
of running to the rear and abandoning 
the tanks. The inexperience of the di- 
vision was apparent on all echelons. 
When General Macon remarked that 
the commander of another division used 
his antiaircraft guns to mow down the 
hedges facing him, the artillery com- 
mander of the 83d Division asked, "How 
does he get them into position?" "I 
don't know," General Macon answered. 

Despite its deficiencies, the division 



86 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



had managed by sheer persistence to ad- 
vance over a mile down the Carentan- 
Periers road. As a result, the division 
was at the southern end of the narrow 
neck and was ready to debouch into 
wider terrain just north of Sainteny. 
But in making the advance, it had suf- 
fered an additional 750 casualties. With 
these losses, many among key personnel, 
the future effectiveness of the division 
had been seriously impaired. 

Although the advance of the 83d still 
did not permit commitment of a second 
division, General Collins, already de- 
layed one day, decided to wait no longer. 
The depletion and exhaustion of the 
83d must have been a factor in his de- 
cision. He ordered General Macon to 
confine his efforts to the left of the 
Carentan-Periers road and to shift his 
direction from the southwest toward 
Periers to the south toward the bank of 
the^ Taute River. Collins then in- 
structed the 4th Division commander to 
take temporary control of the battered 
and depleted 331st Infantry on the right 
of the Carentan-Periers road, commit 
one of his own regiments through it, 
and drive toward Periers. Responsi- 
bility for the isthmus on the right of the 
road passed to the 4th Division. 

The 4th Division was an experienced 
unit. It had taken part in the D-Day 
invasion of the Continent and had par- 
ticipated effectively in the Cherbourg 
operation. In the process, however, the 
division had lost about 5,400 men. 
Only five of the rifle company com- 
manders who had made the D-Day land- 
ing were with the division three weeks 
later. Though many key individuals 
remained to steady the 4,400 replace- 
ments who partially refilled the division's 



ranks, Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, 
who had commanded the unit since 
1942, remarked with regret, "We no 
longer have the division we brought 
ashore." 13 

General Barton planned to commit 
the 12th Infantry (Col. James S. Luck- 
ett), with a company each of the 87 th 
Chemical, the 70th Tank, and the 80 1st 
Tank Destroyer Battalions, and a pla- 
toon of the 377th Antiaircraft Artillery 
Automatic Weapons Battalion. To sup- 
port the attack, Barton regained control 
of his division artillery and an additional 
battalion of medium field artillery, 
which for three days had been operating 
with the 90th Division. At the same 
time that the 12th Infantry moved into 
position to make the main division ef- 
fort toward Periers, elements of Col. 
James S. Rodwell's 8th Infantry were to 
relieve the battalion of the 329th Infan- 
try still on the extreme right flank of 
the corps. 

Early on 6 July the 12th Infantry be- 
gan to relieve the 331st. It was a diffi- 
cult relief since strong enemy fire and 
local counterattack harassed the troops. 
When the 12th Infantry had finally 
passed through and attacked to gain a 
favorable line of departure for the co- 
ordinated effort planned with the 83d 
Division, the regiment met firm resist- 
ance that halted the advance at once. 
Further attack for that day was can- 
celed. 

In the meantime, the enemy main- 
tained heavy fire on the 83d Division and 
launched minor counterattacks, inflicting 
about 700 additional casualties. Under 



13 CI 30 (4th Div) . 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



87 



punishing pressure, the division never- 
theless held its positions. 

The lack of success during the third 
day of action along the Carentan-Periers 
axis, this time involving a veteran unit, 
must have confirmed General Collins' 
suspicions that the inexperience of the 
83d Division had not been the principal 
factor in holding back its advance. He 
concluded that the cost of bulldozing 
through the lowlands with conventional 
tactics was too high and turned to an 
ally, the IX Tactical Air Command. 
During the previous few days, as the 
weather had permitted, fighter-bombers 
of the IX TAC had attacked targets of 
opportunity and struck enemy positions 
located by ground observers. General 
Collins now asked for more. He wanted 
a mass dive-bombing effort by more 
than a hundred planes to pummel the 
enemy in front of the 4th and 83d Di- 
visions for forty-five minutes before re- 
newal of the ground attack on 7 July. 14 
With this assistance and a co-ordinated 
attack by the two divisions, General Col- 
lins hoped that the 83d Division would 
reach Sainteny by dark on 7 July and 
that the 4th Division would move far 
enough forward toward Periers to allow 
the gth Division to be committed. Ex- 
pecting this to be fulfilled, General Col- 
lins alerted the gth Division for a move 
to an assembly area near Carentan. 15 

Two events marred the beginning of 
the attack on 7 July. The first occurred 
after General Barton had decided to 
obliterate the resistance in the small 
area on the right near the Prairies Mare- 
cageuses de Gorges. The area had 



14 VII Corps Opns Memo 30, 6 Jul. 

15 [VII Corps] Notes for the CofS, 7 Jul, VII 
Corps G-3 Jnl and File. 



bothered the 83d Division, which had 
made an unsuccessful effort to clear it 
on the first day of its attack. The main 
obstacle to success was the stream, which 
was difficult to cross. Deciding that it 
could best be crossed during darkness, 
General Barton had instructed the com- 
mander of the 8th Infantry to make a 
surprise move during the night of 6 
July. By sending two battalions over 
the stream at night, the units would be 
in position to clear the area at daylight, 
7 July, thus eradicating a potential nui- 
sance to the division rear that might hold 
up the advance should the division 
break through to Periers. 

Though the regimental commander 
complied with instructions, one of his 
battalions could not cross the stream 
even at night because of enemy fire. 
The other battalion, after having picked 
its way through the marsh during the 
night and made the crossing, found it- 
self in an untenable position at day- 
break and was forced to withdraw after 
taking more than a hundred casual- 
ties. 16 

The second disappointment was a 
drizzling rain on the morning of 7 July 
that resulted in cancellation of the 
strong air support. "Disappointing 
news," General Collins reported to the 
divisions prepared to jump off. "But 
go right ahead with your attack." 

General Macon attempted to swing 
his 83d Division gradually southward to 
the bank of the Taute River. His new 
axis of advance was the secondary road 
that crossed the Carentan-Periers isth- 
mus laterally and led to the causeway 
over the flooded Taute. Despite the 



16 4th Div and VII Corps AAR's, Jul; Telecon 
Seventh Army to AGp B, 1050, 7 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



88 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



new direction of advance, the right flank 
elements of the division were still to 
take Sainteny. As the division en- 
deavored to move forward during the 
morning of 7 July, it repelled five coun- 
terattacks, local in nature but fierce in 
intensity. Strong fire from the division 
artillery, effective use of bazooka teams, 
and direct fire from tanks and tank 
destroyers finally defeated the enemy 
efforts, though one battalion, isolated by 
German infiltrators, had to hold out 
until jeeps escorted by light tanks 
brought ammunition and food and re- 
stored communications. In the late 
afternoon Colonel McLendon's 330th 
Infantry made effective use of the divi- 
sion artillery, chiseled a narrow penetra- 
tion through the enemy positions, and 
gained several hundred yards on the 
east flank. The achievement was hailed 
as substantial, raising hopes that the 
enemy defense was deteriorating, but the 
enemy quickly recovered as the recon- 
naissance battalion of the SS panzer 
grenadiers sealed off the penetration. 17 
The 83d Division captured only seven- 
teen prisoners that day. The German 
paratroopers and SS soldiers fought stub- 
bornly, refusing to surrender when out- 
numbered and overpowered and giving 
ground only with desperate reluctance. 
The 83d Division failed to reach either 
Sainteny or the bank of the Taute River 
during the day. 

The 12th Infantry of General Bar- 
ton's 4th Division had even less success. 
Improved weather conditions during the 
afternoon permitted several fighter- 
bombers to operate over the VII Corps 
front, where they bombed enemy posi- 
tions opposing the regiment. The 4th 



Division Artillery followed the bombard- 
ment with a preparation, and the regi- 
ment jumped off once more. Unfor- 
tunately, the strenuous efforts resulted 
in hardly any gain. 

In their attack on 7 July the two com- 
mitted regiments of the 4th Division sus- 
tained almost 600 casualties. The 12 th 
Infantry moved forward but slightly; the 
8th, on the right flank, advanced not at 
all. Even for an experienced division, 
the stubborn and skillful resistance of 
the Germans in the Cotentin was proving 
too much. The swamps and the mud 
were themselves formidable enemies, but 
the most important obstacle insofar as 
the 4th Division was concerned was the 
old problem of the hedgerows. To take 
an average-size field required an entire 
infantry company, for there was no way 
of telling along which row or on which 
side of the hedge the Germans would 
be, and therefore there was no way of 
knowing the best approach. 18 

As the 4th Division rediscovered the 
problems of waging offensive warfare in 
Normandy, the 83d Division began to 
show signs of improvement. The men 
who had survived the early fighting be- 
gan to feel like veterans and to act as 
such. Command control tightened, 
communications improved, and the divi- 
sion began to utilize its attached units 
with confidence. When requesting re- 
placements for the 83d Division from 
the First Army on 7 July, General Col- 
lins remarked that the division was com- 
ing along pretty well. 

The improvement was a bright spot in 
an otherwise bleak situation. Although 
the 83d Division was beginning to gain 
experience, each of its regiments was ap- 



17 Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 7 Jul. 



CI 30 (4th Div) . 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



89 



proximately 600 men understrength, and 
the men remaining were exhausted after 
four days of combat. While the 4th 
Division had not sustained such high 
casualties, it was not fully committed. 
Nor was it possible yet for General Col- 
lins to employ the 4th Division in full 
force. Early commitment of the gth 
Division appeared unlikely. The VII 
Corps had failed to move even to Saint- 
eny, an advance of only two and a half 
miles. The combination of German 
resistance and the Cotentin marshes and 
hedgerows had stymied the Americans, 
at least for the moment in the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus. Continuation of the 
attack meant costly frontal effort with 
little promise of rapid success. 

Unknown to the Americans, their 
offensive action was more successful than 
the results seemed to indicate. The 
aggressive defense of the Germans— tac- 
tics to seal off local penetrations by coun- 
terattack and to encircle American spear- 
heads—was unable to function properly 
under effective artillery fire and fighter- 
bomber attack. Despite skillful ground 
defense, the Germans were gradually be- 
ing forced back, their reserves were being 
used up, and their defensive line was 
dangerously stretched. With the two 
regiments on the isthmus being in- 
creasingly depleted, the SS panzer grena- 
dier division committed in defense of 
Periers part of its regiment that had 
been east of the Taute River. 19 

Despite the impact of the VII Corps 
thrust, the Seventh Army looked upon it 
as it had done when judging the adjacent 
VIII Corps attack on the previous day— 
as merely a reconnaissance in force. 
Although depreciating the American in- 

18 Seventh Army and AGp B KTB's 5-7 Jul. 



tention, the Seventh Army urgently 
called for help. With two U.S. Corps 
exerting pressure, the Germans began 
to be concerned over their relatively 
meager forces in reserve. 20 Anticipating 
by 5 July that the Americans might break 
through to Periers and cut off the 
LXXXIV Corps forces in the la 11 a ye 
du-Puits sector, Hausser, the Seventh 
Army commander, had demanded addi- 
tional reserves. The 2d SS Panzer Divi- 
sion had been moved westward from the 
// Parachute Corps sector to meet the 
American attack, and by 7 July its troops 
were strung across the Cotentin and 
battling both VIII Corps at la Haye-du- 
Puits and VII Corps on the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus. 21 

The VII Corps attack had thus robbed 
the German sectors on both sides of the 
corridor; it had prevented the Germans 
from employing all their available armor 
at la Haye-du-Puits; it also had weakened 
the St. L6 sector just to the east. In- 
stead of massing the armored division for 
a strong counterattack, the Germans had 
had to meet American pressure by com- 
mitting the armored unit piecemeal in 
defense. The panzer division's striking 
power was thus dissipated across the 
active front. To meet the need for still 
more reserves, Rommel and Kluge pre- 
vailed upon OKW and Hitler to release 
the 5th Parachute Division from its sta- 
tion in Brittany, and on 7 July the para- 
troopers began to move toward the 
Cotentin battlefield. 22 

If General Bradley surmised these 



20 Seventh Army KTB, 4 Jul; Telecon, Seventh 
Army to AGp B, 1300, 4 Jul, AGp B KTB. 

21 Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 5 Jul; Telecon 
Seventh Army to AGp B, 1610, 7 Jul, AGp B KTB. 

22 Telecons Hausser to Rommel, 1930, 7 Jul, and 
Rommel to Kluge, 2020, 7 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



90 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



developments, he could not have been 
entirely dismayed by the fact that the 
VII Corps attack on the isthmus had 
been halted at the same time as that of 
the VIII Corps. Also, on the same day, 
7 July, operations immediately to the 
east, in the XIX Corps zone, seemed 
to show an opportunity for rapid suc- 
cess. Shifting his hopes eastward, Gen- 
eral Bradley looked to the region be- 
tween the Taute and the Vire Rivers, 
where additional American pressure 
seemed to promise a swift penetration of 
the enemy defenses. 

The Vire and Taute Bridgehead 

The XIX Corps held positions strad- 
dling the Vire River, which split the 
Corps zone into equal parts of dissimilar 
terrain— Cotentin lowland on the west 
and rolling country on the east. The 
difference was accentuated by the fact 
that the troops on the left (east) were 
along a front that was several miles in 
advance of the line on the right. (Map 5) 

The corps portion of the First Army 
objective lay astride the Vire River 
along the Coutances-St. L6-Bayeux 
highway— between the villages of St. 
Gilles and St. Andre-de-l'Epine, about 
four miles southwest and northeast of St. 
L6, respectively. The objective in- 
cluded not only the high ground ad- 
jacent to the highway but also the city 
of St. L6. 

In compliance with the dictates 
of the terrain, the corps attack was 
to take place in two steps— first west 
of the Vire River, the second east of it. 
The initial effort (on 7 July) was to get 
troops across the Vire et Taute Canal 
and the Vire River and push the corps 



right flank to that part of the objective 
west of the Vire. Such action would 
protect the lateral coastal highway be- 
tween Carentan and Isigny, which was 
still under occasional hostile fire; but 
more to the point, it would place troops 
on the high ground along the Periers- 
St. L6 highway, which was part of 
the First Army's Coutances-Caumont 
objective line. U.S. forces there would 
outflank St. L6 on the west and threaten 
the city from that direction. Reaching 
Pont-Hebert, about half way to the 
objective, would be enough to indicate 
this menace to the Germans, and at that 
point the troops on the corps left were 
to launch their attack east of the Vire. 23 

The XIX Corps was commanded by 
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Corlett. A West 
Pointer whose quiet manner inspired 
confidence and who had a knack of get- 
ting the most from sometimes difficult 
subordinates, General Corlett had par- 
ticipated in operations on Attu and 
had led the 7th Division in the successful 
Marshall Islands campaign in the Pa- 
cific. Sent to the European theater as 
an expert in amphibious warfare, he had 
brought the XIX Corps from England 
to France in June. 24 

General Corlett controlled two divi- 
sions: the 30th Infantry on the corps 
right was to make the attack on 7 July 
to seize the high ground immediately 
west of St. L6; the 29th Infantry was to 
attack later east of the Vire and directly 
toward St. L6. The 35th Infantry Divi- 



23 Ltr, Corlett to OCMH, 19 Jan 54; XIX Corps 
FO 4, 2 Jul (rescinding FO 4, 28 Jun) . 

24 Ltr, Corlett to OCMH, 2 Sep 53; see Philip 
A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gil- 
berts and Marshalls, UNITED STATES ARMY IN 
WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1955) . 




MAP 5 



92 

sion, in the process of arriving in France, 
was soon to join the XIX Corps for com- 
mitment either east or west of the Vire, 
depending upon the development of the 
offensive. It was rumored that Corlett 
was also to receive an armored division 
for employment west of the Vire, but no 
confirmation had come through by 7 
July- 2 * 

To bring up his right, General Corlett 
had to take a large and difficult step. 
His forces had to advance about nine 
miles across moist bottomland rising 
gradually toward the ridge west of St. 
L6. The operations were to take place 
in an area six miles wide, between the 
Taute and Vire Rivers, which flow north 
in parallel channels to Carentan and 
Isigny, respectively. Connecting the 
two rivers was the Vire et Taute Canal, 
a shallow east-west waterway joining 
Carentan and Airel. The canal marked 
the forward positions at the beginning 
of July. 

The 30th Division, which held these 
positions, had arrived in Normandy in 
mid-June. Most of the division was 
still untested in battle. Its commander, 
Maj. Gen. Lei and S. Hobbs, who had 
led the division since 1942, was known 
to be intensely intolerant of persons he 
suspected of inefficiency. 

All three regiments of the 30th Divi- 
sion were in the line and deployed in an 
arc along the Vire et Taute Canal and 
the Vire River. The 120th Infantry 
held the north bank of the canal, the 
1 17th and 1 19th Regiments the east bank 
of the river neaT Airel. The firsi prob- 
lem facing General Hobbs in the forth- 
coming attack was how to get across the 

» Teiecons, Corleti and Hobbs, <j Jul, 30th Div 
G-3 Jnl and File; [Garlh], SI.-L6, pp. 6^7. 




General Corlett 



water barrier and establish a bridgehead 
easily reinforced and expanded. 

The gently sloping banks of the Vire 
et Taute Canal were only twenty feet 
apart, and the water in some places was 
shallow enough to be waded. Never- 
theless, a muddy bottom made fording 
treacherous, and the adjacent terrain 
was completely open marshland. North 
of the canal the soft ground between 
Carentan and Isigny was not suitable 
for concentrating heavy equipment and 
large numbers of supporting troops. 
Two roads had originally crossed the 
canal, a country road near the Taute 
River and a tarred highway closer to 
the Vire, but the bridges had been 
destroyed. 

The Vire River south of the juncture 
with the canal, at Airel, had steep banks 
eight feet high. The river in July was 60 
feet wide and the water from 9 to 14 
feet deep. Low, flat, and exposed fields 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



93 



400 yards in width bordered the Vire on 
each side, but the land was relatively 
dry. East of the river the ground was 
firm and had a well-surfaced road net- 
work. Where a highway crossed the 
river near Airel, an arched stone bridge 
was only slightly damaged. 

Although the size of the canal made 
it a less obvious obstacle, the river offered 
several positive advantages for an assault 
crossing. Getting across the 60-foot 
river in assault boats was likely to be 
quicker and less costly than wading the 
canal. The Germans had flooded both 
waterways, but their efforts at the Vire 
were less efficacious. The road network 
east of the river was better than that 
north of the canal, and the damaged 
stone bridge at Airel could be easily re- 
paired. There was little cover and con- 
cealment in either of the two areas. 

The logical immediate objective of 
forces establishing a bridgehead was a 
road intersection near St. Jean-de-Daye, 
a crossroads 'equidistant— about three 
miles— from the canal and the river. 
The fact that artillery and infantry 
weapons could support a crossing of 
either the river or the canal with equal 
effectiveness influenced General Hobbs' 
decision to make a two-pronged attack 
across both water barriers. The divi- 
sion was to move from the north across 
the canal and from the east across the 
river to seize a bridgehead defined by 
the roads that intersected south of St. 
Jean-de-Daye. Once in possession of the 
bridgehead, the division would move 
south to the high ground west of St. 
L6. 

To cross the Vire River in the divi- 
sion main effort, General Hobbs selected 
the 117th Infantry (Col. Henry E. 



Kelly), a regiment that had demonstrated 
river crossings at The Infantry School, 
Fort Benning, Georgia. The 117th In- 
fantry was to move across the open ter- 
rain at the edge of the river just before 
daybreak and at dawn was to embark in 
assault boats several hundred yards north 
of the Airel stone bridge. Three assault 
waves were to be ferried across the river 
on a 400-yard front while bridges were 
being prepared to accommodate the rest 
of the troops. If the bridges were not 
ready at the end of the third assault 
wave, the infantry was to continue cross- 
ing in boats until enough bridges were 
placed to permit foot and vehicular pas- 
sage. Upon reaching the far shore, the 
infantry was to clear the hamlet at the 
western end of the Airel bridge, get 
astride the road leading west, and move 
uphill toward the St. Jean-de-Daye cross- 
roads. As soon as the entire regiment 
was across the river, Col. Alfred V. 
Ednie's 119th Infantry was to follow. 

At the canal, Col. Hammond D. 
Birks was to send the 120th Infantry 
across the water on foot in the early 
afternoon of the day of attack. The 
crossing site was to be at the destroyed 
bridge on the highway leading south to 
St. Jean-de-Daye. The land was suffi- 
ciently dry for about 400 yards on each 
side of the bridge site to permit deploy- 
ing two battalions abreast. After wad- 
ing the canal, the battalions were to 
drive south. In the wake of the infan- 
try, Col. William S. Biddle's 113th 
Cavalry Group was to cross and turn 
west toward the Taute River to protect 
the 30th Division's right flank. The 
third battalion of the 120th Infantry was 
to remain on the north bank of the canal 
at the country road near the Taute 



94 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



River. Designated as the corps reserve, 
the battalion was to support the regi- 
mental crossing by fire, make a crossing 
feint of its own, and check any German 
attempt to make a countercrossing. 26 

As in almost all opposed bridgehead 
operations, much depended upon the 
work of the division engineers, in this 
case the 105th Engineer Combat Battal- 
ion (Lt. Col. Carroll H. Dunn). In 
addition to assisting the infantry with 
demolitions, flame throwers, and mine 
removal, the engineers had major assign- 
ments at both the river and the canal. 27 

At the river the engineers were to blow 
gaps for infantry passage through the 
last hedgerow before the water. They 
were to supply 40 assault boats and 
crews of four men per boat. Three men 
of each crew were to paddle the boats 
across while the fourth remained on the 
east bank to pull the boat back by rope 
for the next wave. To help the infan- 
trymen mount the steep bank on the far 
side, the engineers were to build scaling 
ladders with special hooks. 

In addition, the division engineers, 
with the help of corps engineers, were 
to span the river with a variety of 
bridges. First priority was given to a 
footbridge; next, a ponton infantry sup- 
port bridge was to be placed across the 
river to permit the organic division 
vehicles to cross. Afterwards, a floating 
treadway was to be installed and the 
stone bridge at Airel was to be repaired 
for the heavy vehicular traffic of the 
armor and artillery units. When all 



20 Field orders of the division and the regiments 
in the 30th Div G-3 Jnl File. 

27 105th Engr C Bn Plan "C," 29 Jun, 30th Div 
G-3 Jnl File; 105th Engr C Bn Traffic Circ Plan 
and Overlay, 5 Jul, AAR, Jul; 105th Engr C Bn 
Hist, Feb 42-15 Nov 45, Vol. II. 



three vehicular bridges were in opera- 
tion, General Hobbs planned to use the 
stone structure and the treadway for one- 
way traffic moving west into the bridge- 
head, the ponton bridge for traffic mov- 
ing east out of it. 

At the canal the engineers were to lay 
duckboards as footbridges for the men 
of the heavy weapons companies and 
also for the litter bearers evacuating 
casualties. Medical planners expected 
long hand-carry hauls at both the river 
and the canal because the lack of exist- 
ing vehicular bridges and the absence of 
cover in the areas bordering the water 
precluded the use of jeeps fitted with 
litter racks. 28 For eventual vehicular 
passage at the canal the engineers were 
to install a section of treadway bridging 
and repair the destroyed structure at the 
crossing site. 

American G-2 officers expected both 
crossings to meet strong resistance. In- 
telligence indicated three regimental- 
sized organizations deployed between 
the Taute and Vire Rivers: a regiment 
of the ijth SS Panzer Grenadier Divi- 
sion, three battalions of the 275th Divi- 
sion formed into Kampfgruppe Heinz, 
and elements of the 266th Division sup- 
ported by troops of the 352CI Division 
organized into Kampfgruppe Kentner— 
all under the local operational control 
of the panzer grenadiers, which in turn 
functioned under LXXXIV Corps. 
German tanks had not been noted in 
the region, but an assault gun battalion 
with about three dozen 75-mm. and 
105-mm. pieces in support of the infan- 
try had been observed. Occupying 
ground that rises gradually toward the 
south, the Germans had good observa- 

28 XIX Corps Office of the Surgeon AAR, Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



95 



tion of the entire area. They had 
rested, reorganized, and increased their 
supply levels during several weeks of 
inactivity, and had maintained a strong 
counterreconnaissance screen that in- 
hibited American patrolling. Their 
probable course of action, as judged by 
intelligence, was to be a tenacious de- 
fense employing strong local counter- 
attacks. 29 

This estimate, in marked contrast 
with the optimistic appraisals made 
several days earlier by the VII and VIII 
Corps, was in error. Whereas the two 
U.S. corps on the First Army right 
had underestimated the opposition, the 
XIX Corps overestimated the German 
strength. 

The XIX Corps had actually faced 
strong German forces on 3 July. An 
attack between the Taute and the 
Vire on that date would have met a 
considerable force of German reserves. 
The SS panzer grenadier regiment in 
full force, supported by Kampfgruppe 
Heinz, would have opposed the water 
crossings; the 353d Division would have 
contributed units for a counterattack; 
and the 15th Parachute Regiment near 
Periers and the 2d SS Panzer Division 
near St. L6 would have been available 
for commitment. 

By 7 July, however, almost the entire 
SS panzer grenadier division was fighting 
on the Carentan-Periers isthmus. The 
353d Division and the 15th Parachute 
Regiment were engaged on Mont Castre 
and at la Haye-du-Puits. The 2d SS 
Panzer Division was largely committed 
at la Haye-du-Puits and north of Periers. 
Kampfgruppe Kentner was east of the 



29 XIX Corps AAR, Jul, G-2 Per Rpt 22, 6 Jul, 
and Intel Annex to FO 5, 7 Jul. 



Vire and a part of the // Parachute 
Corps. Thus, the only units ready to 
oppose the 30th Division between the 
Taute and the Vire were Kampfgruppe 
Heinz and a small part of the SS panzer 
grenadiers. These forces nevertheless 
possessed positive advantages in superior 
observation and terrain readily adapt- 
able to defense. 30 

To overcome the expected resistance, 
General Hobbs called upon a tremen- 
dous amount of fire power. Dive 
bombers were to blast the German posi- 
tions and potential routes of reinforce- 
ment. An elaborate artillery plan 
(drawn by Brig. Gen. George Shea, 
the XIX Corps Artillery commander) 
utilized the division artillery, the corps 
artillery, and the artillery of a nearby 
armored division. In all, eight field 
artillery battalions, including one of 8- 
inch howitzers, were to augment the 
organic division artillery. In addition, 
the 92d Chemical and the 823d Tank 
Destroyer Battalions were to deliver in- 
direct fire. All buildings suspected of 
housing enemy strongpoints were to be 
destroyed. A rolling or creeping bar- 
rage was to precede the foot troops, the 
fire to advance 100 yards every five 
minutes. "Hug the artillery barrage," 
General Hobbs instructed his subordi- 
nate commanders, "it will carry us 
through." 31 

In preparing to execute the plan, the 
division applied itself to perfecting the 
techniques of getting across the water. 
The 117th Infantry conducted practice 



30 Hodgson, R-54. 

31 30th Div, Notes for Div and Unit Comdrs, 2 
Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl File; 30th Div AAR, Jul; 
30th Div Arty AAR, Jul; the division and the reg- 
imental field orders; 3d Armored Div G-3 Per Rpt 
13, 7 Jul. 



96 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



crossings, and each officer and noncom- 
missioned leader in the regiment studied 
the terrain and the plan on a large sand 
table model of the area. The engineers 
practiced the details of bridge construc- 
tion, made ready the assault boats, and 
assembled the required equipment. At 
the same time, the bulk of the division 
studied and practiced hedgerow tactics. 
General Hobbs emphasized the neces- 
sity of achieving close infantry, armor, 
and engineer co-ordination. He stressed 
the need to keep moving. Since bunch- 
ing up or building up a firing line along 
a hedge or a landmark was an "invita- 
tion for casualties," he insisted on ex- 
tended formations. 

During their training period the men 
found that the light' machine gun was 
not the best weapon to support infantry 
attacks in the hedgerows. They dis- 
covered that two 15-pound charges of 
TNT in burlap bags opened a gap in a 
hedgerow bank large enough for a tank. 
Learning that without demolition 50 
percent of the hedgerow dikes could be 
breached by engineer tank dozers, the 
division attached dozers to the tank 
units. The men were reminded that 
the Germans particularly feared white 
phosphorus shells, which were highly 
effective against hedgerow positions. 
They were instructed to use the bazooka 
as more than a antitank weapon since its 
rocket head, when employed in high- 
angle fire and against a hard object, was 
almost as effective against personnel as 
the 60-mm. mortar shell. 

The division also studied the lessons 
of its first minor combat action a few 
weeks earlier. The troops determined 
that the proper way to advance was to 
locate the enemy's main line of resist- 
ance, then drive to it and roll it up from 



the flank, neutralize it, or bypass it. This 
would eliminate the necessity of feeling 
out every hedge in the kind of slow 
deliberate advance that increased the 
effectiveness of the enemy's prearranged 
fires. But applying the technique was 
not easy. The excellent German 
camouflage made it extremely difficult 
to find the enemy positions. So incle- 
ment was the weather between 25 June 
and 7 July that not one aerial photo- 
graphic mission could be flown. 32 

The 30th Division completed its 
attack preparations during the first days 
of July. The attached 743d Tank 
Battalion reported all its tanks— 52 
mediums and 17 light— ready for com- 
bat; the engineers made known their 
readiness; the infantry seemed to be set. 
General Hobbs was satisfied that the 
division would make a good showing. 33 

On the morning of 7 July it rained. 
All air strikes were canceled. The 
artillery observation planes remained on 
the ground. 

At 0300 one battalion of the 1 17th In- 
fantry moved out of its assembly area 
one mile east of the Vire River. 34 Low 



32 30th Div Memo, Inf Tk Coordination, 2 Jul, 
30th Div G-3 Jnl File; XIX Corps Draft Memo, 
4 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl File; G-2 Sec, German 
Organization of Defense, Villiers-Fossard, 4 Jul, 
XIX Corps AAR, Jul; [Garth], St.-Ld, p. 7. 

33 743d Tk Bn Msg, 2 Jul; 105th Engr C Bn 
Rpts, 1 and 2 Jul; Telecons, Corlett and Hobbs, 
4 Jul. All in 30th Div G-3 Jnl File. 

34 The following account is taken from the of- 
ficial records of the division. The division G-3 
Journal is a rich source of recorded telephone con- 
versations and has been used extensively. [Garth], 
St.-Ld, pp. 9-14, and Hewitt, Story of joth Division, 
pp. 26ft, give good detailed accounts of the action, 
the former from the point of view of the small 
units involved, the latter from that of the division 
headquarters. Also of use were: XIX Corps Msgs 
to FUSA, 7 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File; 30th Div AAR, 
Jul; and CI 94 (30th Div) . 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



97 



clouds obscured the moon. A drizzling 
rain fell. Fog hovered over the ground. 
The brush dripped moisture, and the 
earth became mud. The corps artillery 
began its preparation at 0330 by firing 
on distant targets. Forty-five minutes 
later the division artillery, tank de- 
stroyers, and 4. 2 -inch mortars began to 
fire at close-in enemy installations and 
troop concentration areas. At the line 
of departure— the last hedgerow before 
the river— engineer guides met the two 
infantry assault companies at 0430. 
Picking up their rubber assault boats 
and scaling ladders, the infantrymen 
and engineers moved through holes 
already blasted in the hedgerow and 
walked along prepared paths to the 
water. Organized into groups of twelve, 
the men carried their craft in addition 
to their weapons, ammunition, and com- 
bat packs. They slid down the slick 
clay bank and lowered their boats into 
the stream. Because of the sharp angle 
of launching, most of the craft shipped 
some water. The riflemen climbed 
aboard; the men of the weapons platoons 
placed their mortars and machine guns 
in the boats and swam alongside to avoid 
swamping them. 

Shortly after 0430, as artillery shells 
slammed into the ground ahead, the first 
assault wave of thirty-two boats crossed 
the Vire River. Ten minutes later the 
men were scrambling up the bank on 
the far side and heading for the first 
hedgerow in enemy territory. A single 
hostile machine gun opened fire. As 
the engineers on the east bank of the 
river began pulling on their ropes to 
haul the boats back, enemy artillery and 
mortar shells began crashing into the 
stream. Under this shelling the second 



and third infantry assault waves paddled 
across the river. 

As the first assault wave pulled away 
from the near shore, the first critical task 
of the supporting engineers began— in- 
stalling a footbridge. Having carried 
preconstructed sections of the footbridge 
to the edge of the water, a platoon of 
engineers had installed six bays when 
enemy artillery struck the bays and a 
group of engineers carrying additional 
duckboard sections. The shells killed 
four men and wounded four. Though 
the platoon repaired the bays and set 
them in place again, enemy artillery tore 
the bridge loose from its moorings and 
wounded several more men. Doggedly, 
the engineers swam into the river to 
secure the bridge again. About 0600 
the footbridge at last was in. Assault 
boats no longer were needed for the 
crossing. In the process, the engineer 
platoon had lost about twenty men, half 
its strength. 

On the far shore, the two leading rifle 
companies moved quickly to the south- 
west across the hedgerowed fields for a 
thousand yards. A rifle company that 
had landed in the second wave moved 
south against the hamlet on the west 
side of the Airel bridge and took it after 
a short, sharp engagement. By about 
0830, the first battalion of the 117th In- 
fantry to cross had met strong but 
scattered resistance and was astride its 
axis of advance, ready to drive west to 
the St. Jean-de-Daye road intersection. 

On the near bank of the Vire, en- 
gineers continued their bridging efforts. 
At 0700 they removed bodies and a 
wrecked truck from the Airel bridge and 
began demining the stone structure and 
its eastern approaches. Harassing rifle 



98 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Stone Bridge at Airel 



fire ceased after American infantrymen 
cleared the hamlet across the river. An 
engineer officer and six men began to 
repair the two large holes in the bridge 
roadbed. Though this provided suffi- 
cient space for jeeps to make a careful 
crossing, the bridge had to be capable of 
bearing heavier traffic— the tank battal- 
ion attached to the division had been 
given first priority for use of the bridge. 
Under fire from enemy mortars and 
artillery, which smoke shells fired by the 
division artillery failed to discourage, a 
small engineer group maneuvered two 
trucks fitted with special Brockway 
bodies to the river. These vehicles not 
only carried tread way sections but also 
had hydraulic booms to lift the tread- 



ways off and set them in place. Heaving 
and prying six tons of steel into place, 
the engineers laid the treadways over the 
damaged span and by ogoo had covered 
the gaps in the roadway. The operation 
took thirteen minutes. Five minutes 
later a bulldozer crossed the stone bridge 
and cleared rubble from the streets of 
the hamlet while engineers swept the 
western approaches for mines, Vehicles 
soon began to cross. 

At 0730 another group of engineers 
had started constructing an infantry sup- 
port bridge for the vehicles organic to 
the division. They completed it in an 
hour at a cost of fifteen casualties from 
enemy artillery fire. Another engineer 
crew commenced work at 0845 on a 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



99 



floating treadway bridge, which was in 
place by noon. 

The efforts of the engineers gave the 
division one footbridge and the three 
planned vehicular entrances into the 
bridgehead, two of which were capable 
of sustaining heavy traffic. Without 
these bridges, the infantry on the far 
bank might have been unable to sus- 
tain offensive operations for long. 35 

All three battalions of Colonel Kelly's 
1 17th Infantry were across the Vire River 
before 1000 on 7 July. Meeting 
scattered delaying action from Kampf- 
gruppe Heinz, the regiment advanced 
west toward St. Jean-de-Daye. 36 At 
1015 a battalion of Colonel Ednie's 1 19th 
Infantry crossed the Airel bridge and 
moved to protect the left flank of the 
bridgehead. Tanks and tank destroyers 
began rolling across about noon. 

As the Vire River bridgehead broad- 
ened, Colonel Birks prepared to launch 
the 120th Infantry across the Vire et 
Taute Canal at 1330. When artillery 
turned an increased volume of fire on 
the German positions along the canal 
just before the scheduled jump-off time, 
plans temporarily went awry. Instead 
of wading the canal as instructed, the 
assault companies decided to wait for 
engineers to install footbridges. The 
engineers, having miscalculated the 
width of the waterway, found it difficult 
to lay their duckboards. Confusion 
developed at the line of departure, an 
occurrence furthered by incoming enemy 
artillery, mortar, and small arms fire. 



S5 Engr Sitreps and Engr Sec Jnl, XIX Corps 
AAR, Jul; 105th Engr C Bn Annual Hist, 1944, 
Incl 3 (photographs of typical bridge installations) ; 
ETOUSA Engr Hist Rpt 10, Combat Engineering 
(Aug 45) , pp. 106-08. 

30 Seventh Army KTB (Draft), 7 Jul. 



About fifteen minutes late, the leading 
men of the two attacking battalions 
finally plunged into the canal to launch 
their advance south along the highway 
toward St. Jean-de-Daye. 

During the afternoon all six battalions 
on the far side of the water obstacles- 
three from the 117th Infantry, one from 
the 119th, and two from the 120th— 
attempted to establish mutual contact 
and set up a consolidated position at the 
crossroads. New to the hedgerow fight- 
ing, the men of the 30th Division found 
that attaining their objectives was no 
simple task. The men soon discovered 
how difficult it was in actuality to locate 
the enemy positions, how hard it was to 
maintain communications, how easy it 
was to get lost, how much depended on 
the individual initiative of the com- 
manders of small units. 

Rain added to problems of restricted 
observation in the hedgerows, and there 
was little effective infantry-artillery co- 
ordination on 7 July. Early in the 
morning General Hobbs himself can- 
celed the rolling artillery barrage when 
he noted that the infantry could not keep 
pace with it. Inspection later revealed 
that the barrage was wasteful. Firing 
for five minutes each on lines arbitrarily 
drawn a hundred yards apart meant that 
rounds struck the enemy hedgerow posi- 
tions only by chance. The 4.2-inch 
mortars, participating in the barrage, 
fired about 2,100 shells, so much am- 
munition that expenditures were re- 
stricted for the remainder of the 
month. 37 



37 Although there had been some discussion of 
attaching heavy mortar companies to the infantry 
regiments for better close support, the use of 
chemical mortars to support an infantry attack 
was judged to be "a most unusual role." The 



100 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



All afternoon Colonel Birks kept call- 
ing for commitment of the third battal- 
ion of the 120th Infantry into the bridge- 
head. The corps commander would not 
release the battalion from reserve posi- 
tions on the north bank of the Vire et 
Taute Canal until Colonel Biddle's 
113th Cavalry Group had crossed the 
canal and secured the 30th Division right 
flank. The cavalry could not cross the 
canal until the engineers spanned the 
water with a treadway bridge. The 
engineers could not put in the bridge 
because the site was under constant 
enemy artillery fire. After waiting im- 
patiently for several hours, General 
Hobbs finally commanded the engineers 
to disregard the enemy fire and set the 
bridge in place. Less than an hour later 
the bridge was in. Pleased, General 
Hobbs remarked that he "knew it could 
be done if they had guts." He ordered 
Colonel Birks to "pour that cavalry 
over." 38 

Before the cavalry could cross, a 
traffic jam developed as three tank 
platoons entered the bridgehead to sup- 
port the infantry. Not until two hours 
later, at 2030, could Colonel Biddle be- 
gin to move his 113th Cavalry Group 
across the bridge, an operation that took 
five and a half hours. Enemy harassing 
fire and intermingling vehicles of several 
units impeded the crossing. The nar- 

heavy mortar companies remained for the moment 
under artillery control, but by August opinion 
definitely characterized the heavy mortar as an 
area weapon that "should be employed in close 
support of infantry troops." 30th Div Arty AAR, 
Jul; XIX Corps Cml Sec Jnl, XIX Corps AAR, 
entries 8, 13, 14, 18 Jul; 12th AGp Immed Rpts 26 
and 29, 10 and 28 Aug. 

38 Telecons, Corlett, Hobbs, Birks, and Dunn, 7 
Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl File; 120th Inf S-3 Rpt, 7 
Jul; Msg from Lt Col Walter M. Johnson, 2215, 7 
Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl and File. 



row roads, originally in poor condition, 
worsened under the rain and the weight 
of the heavy vehicles. The single 
bridge across the canal was inadequate 
for the main supply route where rein- 
forcements and supplies flowed in one 
direction while casualties moved in the 
other. Using bulldozers to fill the canal 
with earth, the engineers completed a 
second vehicular crossing site just before 
midnight. 39 

The traffic congestion at the Vire 
River was worse. The division had 
planned to use the stone bridge and the 
treadway for one-way traffic into the 
bridgehead, the infantry support bridge 
for casualties and traffic moving east. 
Early in the afternoon, as a half-track 
and trailer were crossing the infantry 
support bridge, an enemy shell scored 
a direct hit. The half-track and trailer 
sank and fouled the ponton structure, 
and efforts to raise the vehicles and re- 
pair the bridge during the afternoon 
and evening were unsuccessful. This 
left but two vehicular bridges at Airel, 
both targets of interdictory shelling. 
Under the direction of impatient com- 
manders, personnel and supplies trickled 
across the structures while the roads be- 
came more and more congested and the 
bridge approaches jammed. As engines 
labored, tires churned and men cursed. 

The six battalions in the bridgehead 
paused to rest and reorganize several 
hundred yards short of the crossroads in 
the late afternoon of the rain-soaked day. 
During the evening they established 
mutual contact, a continuous line, and 
a consolidated position overlooking the 



39 XIX Corps Engr Sec Msg, 2230, 7 Jul, and 
113th Cav Gp Msg, 0245, 8 J ul > XIX Cc, rps G-3 
Jnl and File. 



THE OFFENSIVE BROADENED 



101 



road intersection. Although General 
Corlett wanted the division to continue 
the attack after nightfall to secure the 
crossroad objective, General Hobbs per- 
suaded him that exerting pressure by 
active and aggressive patrolling would 
suffice. 40 

The 30th Division had failed to take 
its objective, but it had made a signif- 
icant advance on its first day of attack 
with less than 300 casualties. 41 So suc- 
cessful was the river crossing that even 
before the assault was made across the 
canal it was rumored that the armored 
division earlier predicted for the XIX 
Corps would be forthcoming for em- 
ployment in the bridgehead. That 
afternoon General Corlett thought that 
if he did get the armored division, he 
would put it across the Vire, pass it 
through the infantry, and direct it south 
to the corps objective, the ridge west 
of St. L6. 42 

That evening the rumor became fact. 
General Bradley had decided that if 

"Telecon, Corlett and Hobbs, 7 Jul, 30th Div 
G-3 Jnl File. 

41 Lt. Col. Arthur H. Fuller of the 117th Infantry 
received the DSC. 

42 Telecons, Corlett and Hobbs, 1255 and 1725. 
7 Jul, 30th Div. G—3 Jnl File. 



only a light enemy screen protected the 
ground between the Vire and the Taute 
Rivers, as seemed likely, armored com- 
mitment in the bridgehead was in 
order. 43 Ten minutes after General 
Corlett learned that General Bradley 
had attached the 3d Armored Division to 
XIX Corps, Corlett was telling the 
armored division commander to cross 
the Vire River at Airel, move southwest 
through the 30th Division, and make a 
"powerdrive" toward the high ground 
west of St. L6. The 30th Division was 
to follow rapidly in support. 44 

Not long afterwards, contingents of 
armor were moving toward the stone 
bridge at Airel. Although the two corps 
on the First Army right wing appeared 
halted, it looked as though the XIX 
Corps between the Taute and the Vire 
had only begun to advance. If this 
development were exploited adroitly, the 
entire First Army offensive might pick 
up speed. 

43 Telecon, Col Charles W. West and Col Richard 
W. Stephens, 1750, 7 Jul; FUSA Msg to XIX Corps, 
1815, 7 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl File; [Garth], 
St.-Ld, p. 17. 

44 XIX Corps FO 5, 1900, 7 Jul (confirming ver- 
bal orders) , and Special Map "A"; Ltr, Corlett to 
OCMH, 19 Jan 54, OCMH Files. 



CHAPTER VI 



The Attempt To Exploit 



The comparative ease with which 
the bridgehead between the Taute and 
the Vire Rivers was established on 7 July 
indicated to Americans and Germans 
alike the existence of a soft spot in the 
German defenses. With only Kampf- 
gruppe Heinz and a small part of the 
iyth SS Panzer Grenadier Division de- 
fending the area, the Americans were 
close to achieving a breakthrough. 
Hausser, the Seventh Army commander, 
shifted a mobile (bicycle) brigade of 
light infantry and a reconnaissance bat- 
talion westward across the Vire River out 
of the // Parachute Corps sector. This 
could be only an expedient, a stopgap 
measure, for obviously the troops were 
not strong enough, nor the defensive 
attitude that their commitment implied 
sufficient, to stop expansion of the 
bridgehead. What the Germans needed 
was a counterattack by strong forces to 
demolish the bridgehead and restore the 
positions along the canal and the river. 

Panzer Lehr, an armored division re- 
cently in defensive positions near Caen, 
seemed to Kluge and Rommel an obvious 
choice. Having just been replaced by 
a newly arrived infantry division, Panzer 
Lehr was scheduled to go into the Panzer 
Group West reserve and strengthen 
Eberbach's zone defense. The division 
was the only strong force available for 
transfer to the Seventh Army front to 
counterattack the American bridgehead. 



Since shifting the division across the 
front from the vicinity of Caen to the 
area west of St. L6 would take several 
days, the Germans had to preserve the 
conditions that still made a counterattack 
feasible. They had to find strong forces 
that were closer to the threatened area 
and available for immediate commit- 
ment. They settled on the 2d SS Panzer 
Division, most of which already was 
battling the VII and VIII Corps. Al- 
though Kluge realized that drawing part 
of the SS armored division away from 
the Seventh Army left might weaken the 
west flank defenses beyond repair, Rom- 
mel pointed out that the Taute and 
Vire situation was much more critical. 
American success between the two rivers 
had created a minor penetration that, if 
exploited, might well invalidate the Ger- 
man policy of holding fast. Kluge re- 
luctantly agreed. He approved the plan 
to send part of the 2d SS Panzer Division 
eastward across the Taute to hold until 
the Panzer Lehr Division, moving west- 
ward across the Vire, could arrive to 
counterattack and demolish the bridge- 
head. 1 

The Americans, for their part, having 
judged the probable German course cor- 
rectly, hastened to exploit their success 



1 Telecons, 1610, 1910, 1930, 2005, and 2020, 7 Jul, 
AGp B KTB; Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 7 Jul. 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 




German Bicycle Brigade 



before the enemy could act. 2 Hopeful 
that the First Army offensive was at last 
about to move with dispatch, but also 
looking to the lesser goal of shoring up 
the bridgehead against counterattack, 
General Bradley gave XIX Corps the 3d 
Armored Division, which had been in 
the army reserve. 8 Unwilling to dictate 
the details of commitment, General 
Bradley simply instructed General Cor- 



= See, for example, the 3d Armd Div CCB G-a 
Daily Narrative. 7-16 Jul. 

s The official records of the units involved have 
been supplemented by letters to OCMH from Gen- 
eral of the Army Omar N. Bradley, 16 Mar 34; 
Maj Gen Charles H. Corlett (Ret.) , ig Jan 34; 
Maj Gen Leroy H. Watson (Ret.) (CG, 3d Armd 
Div) , as Feb 54; Maj Gen Leland S. Hobbs (Ret.) , 
3 Mar 54; and Brig Gen John J, Bohn (Ret.) (CG, 
CCB, 3d Armd Div), 14 Jan 54, AJI in OCMH 
Files. [Garth], St.-Ld, presents an excellent nar- 
rative of the events described below. 



lett to support the 30th Division with 
the armored division. 

General Corlett had definite ideas of 
his own. He wanted to get the 3d Ar- 
mored Division across the Vire, pass it 
through the 30th Division, and advance 
rapidly to the south to seize and hold 
the high ground west of St. L6. Unfor- 
tunately, it was difficult to translate the 
desire into action, for General Corlett 
was severely ill and confined to bed at 
his command post for several days. He 
telephoned the armored division com- 
mander, Maj. Gen. Leroy H. Watson, in 
the late afternoon of 7 July and instruct- 
ed him to cross the Vire River as soon as 
he could and then drive south. "How 
far do you want me to go?" General Wat- 
son asked. "The Germans have little or 
nothing over there," the corps com- 
mander replied, "just keep going." 



104 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Thus, at the beginning of the new 
phase of action between the Taute and 
the Vire, clarity of aims was lacking. 
The army commander envisioned a 
build-up of the bridgehead forces with 
armor; the corps commander foresaw a 
limited exploitation to the ridge west 
of St. L6; the armored division com- 
mander understood that he was to make 
an unlimited drive to the. south. The 
incompatibility of intent led to some 
confusion that was the beginning of in- 
creasing disorder. 

Although General Corlett had known 
for some time that the armored division 
might be attached to his corps, illness 
prevented him from personally directing 
its commitment. To help him with the 
operation, Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker, 
commander of the XX Corps, which had 
not yet been committed to action, tem- 
porarily acted as Corlett's representative. 

General Watson was surprised by the 
sudden news of his impending commit- 
ment. He had not been informed be- 
forehand of the corps objectives and 
plans, nor had he discussed with Gener- 
als Corlett and Hobbs such arrange- 
ments as co-ordinating artillery fires, 
constructing additional bridges, facilitat- 
ing the entry of the division into the 
bridgehead, providing passage through 
the 30th Division, or determining routes 
of advance. Guessing that General Cor- 
lett intended to commit the entire ar- 
mored division, which happened actually 
to be the case, Watson decided to send 
one combat command across the river 
first. 

General Watson's force was one of 
the two "old-type" armored divisions 
in the European theater. Both had been 
in England preparing for the invasion 



when a new table of organization, effec- 
tive September 1943, had triangularized 
the armored division and reduced its 
size to make it less cumbersome and 
more maneuverable. Because reorgan- 
izing the two divisions in England might 
have delayed their battle readiness, they 
had retained their original organization. 
In contrast with the new and smaller 
armored divisions, the 3d Armored Di- 
vision possessed two combat commands 
instead of three, 232 medium tanks in- 
stead of 168, and with its attached units 
numbered over 16,000 men instead of 
j 2,000. Powerful, if somewhat un- 
wieldy, the 3d Armored Division was 
subdivided into twin combat commands, 
each a strong force easily detached from 
the whole. Neither Bradley nor Corlett 
had specified the size of the armored 
force to be committed west of the Vire 
River on 7 July, but Watson's decision 
to commit one combat command as a 
start was normal. 

The armored division had arrived in 
Normandy late in June. Early plans 
for July had caused the division to be 
tentatively alerted for an attack in the 
VII Corps sector; but because of increas- 
ing danger that the Germans might 
counterattack the army left, east of the 
Vire River, the division remained in 
army reserve. Since Combat Command 
A (CCA) had taken part in a limited 
objective attack at the end of June, 
General Watson decided to give Combat 
Command B (CCB), headed by Brig. 
Gen. John J. Bohn, the first mission be- 
tween the Taute and the Vire. In an 
assembly area east of the Vire River, 
CCB had been prepared to execute 
several potential plans of action, among 
them one based on the assumption that 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



105 



it would attack south after the 30th Di- 
vision seized St. Jean-de-Daye— exactly 
the situation the unit was called upon 
to implement. 4 USee Map 5.) 



Having been alerted tor movement at 
1615, 7 July, and having received the 
march order at 1830, General Bohn led 
his column toward the Airel bridge. 
Although he had asked permission to 
phone General Hobbs to co-ordinate his 
river crossing with the infantry— wire 
had been laid to the 30th Division head- 
quarters in anticipation of this kind of 
emergency— the 3d Armored Division 
chief of staff assured him that the di- 
vision staff would take care of all such 
details. Bohn was to perform under 
3d Armored Division control. 

General Bohn had quite a task. He 
had to get 6,000 men in 800 vehicles and 
300 trailers, a column over 20 miles long, 
across a single bridge that was under 
enemy fire, enter, partially during the 
hours of darkness, a bridgehead that be- 
longed to another division, and attack 
a distant objective in strange territory 
with inexperienced troops. 5 

Since the time length of a combat 



4 Plan 5 of an undated draft ltr, Bohn to Wat- 
son, in compliance with 3d Armd Div FO 2, 2 Jul, 
3d Armd Div CCB S-3 Jnl File. Subsequent let- 
ters omitted Plan 5. See 3d Armd Div Opn Plan 
1, 6 Jul. 

6 CCB consisted of a reconnaissance company 
and three tank battalions of the 33d Armored 
Regiment; one battalion and the headquarters of 
the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment; the 54th 
and 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalions, each 
with an attached battery of antiaircraft artillery; 
a company each of the 83d Reconnaissance Battal- 
ion, the 23d Armored Engineer Battalion, the 703d 
Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 45th Armored Medi- 
cal Battalion, and the division Maintenance Bat- 
talion; and an additional battery of antiaircraft 
artillery. 3d Armd Div FO 3, 7 Jul; 3d Armd Di- 
CCB AAR, 7-16 Jul. 



command column was normally esti- 
mated at four hours, and since the Airel 
crossing site was but five miles from the 
combat command assembly area, the 
unit under normal conditions should 
have been across the Vire River shortly 
after midnight, 7 July. 6 Conditions on 
the night of 7-8 July were far from nor- 
mal. The combat command could use 
only one road to approach the river, a 
road that was narrow, rain-soaked, and 
heavily burdened with other traffic. 
Maintaining radio silence, the armored 
force proceeded slowly toward an area 
that was receiving intermittent enemy 
artillery fire and becoming increasingly 
congested with vehicles. The 30th Di- 
vision alone, attempting to reinforce, 
supply, and stabilize the bridgehead, 
was having difficulty maintaining a con- 
tinuous flow of traffic across the river. 
Of the three vehicular bridges construct- 
ed near Airel, the ponton structure had 
been knocked out during the afternoon 
by enemy shells. Of the two remain- 
ing—the permanent stone bridge and the 
floating treadway— one had to carry traf- 
fic moving east from the bridgehead. A 
single bridge was all that was available 
for CCB, and even that had to be shared 
with the 30th Division, which was in 
the process of moving an additional in- 
fantry battalion into the bridgehead. 
With vehicles of both organizations in- 
termingling, the enemy fire falling near 
Airel further retarding the flow of traf- 
fic, and blackout discipline increasing 



6 This was an estimate given by CCA of the 
3d Armored Division on 10 July, based on a speed 
of 8 miles per hour at night and 12 miles per 
hour, but with a longer interval between vehicles, 
during the day. 9th Div G—3 Jnl, 10 Jul; see also 
CCB March Table, 29 Jul, 3d Armd Div CCB S-3 
Jnl File. 



106 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the difficulties, the combat command 
did not get its last vehicle across the 
bridge until long after daybreak on 8 

July- 

Across the river, the combat command 
had to find lodgment in a small area 
crowded with 30th Division troops and 
closely hemmed in by an active enemy. 
A tank battalion received enemy small 
arms and mortar fire as it moved into 
assembly just south of the Airel-St. Jean- 
de-Daye road. A reconnaissance com- 
pany scouting several hundred yards 
south of the same road ran into a road- 
block guarded by enemy infantrymen 
with machine guns. During the night, 
minor enemy forces attacked and drove 
one small armored unit back to the main 
road. As the men sought places where 
they could park their tanks and other 
vehicles west of the Vire, they were har- 
assed by enemy mortar and artillery 
fire. 7 

To pass one major element through 
another is always a delicate procedure. 
Passing the combat command through 
the 30th Division was to be a frustrating 
experience. Without reconnaissance on 
the part of the armored unit and without 
co-ordination between the combat com- 
mand and the infantry division, misun- 
derstanding was inevitable. 

On the night of 7-8 July the 30th Di- 
vision had the bulk of its combat troops 
west of the Vire. One battalion of the 
ngth Infantry held the left flank, which 
rested on the Vire River, and another 
battalion of that regiment was moving 
into the bridgehead. The three bat- 
talions of the 117th Infantry, in the cen- 
ter, occupied positions just short of the 

7 Msgs, 2337 and 2338, 7 Jul, 3d Armd Div CCB 
S-3 Jnl and File. 



St. Jean-de-Daye crossroads. Two bat- 
talions of the 120th Infantry were eche- 
loned to the right along the road between 
St. Jean-de-Daye and the canal. West 
of that road as far as the Taute River, 
about four miles away, the area still had 
to be cleared by the 113th Cavalry 
Group, which had followed the 120th 
Infantry across the canal. 

As soon as General Hobbs had learned 
that the combat command was to en- 
ter the bridgehead, he had ordered his 
troops to clear the main road west of 
Airel of all unnecessary traffic and give 
the armor priority of movement. He 
envisioned the advance of the combat 
command to the St. Jean-de-Daye road 
intersection, where the armor would 
turn left and drive rapidly south along 
the good highway toward the corps ob- 
jective, the high ground west of St. 
L6. The first part of this action, the 
advance to the crossroad, would se- 
cure the bridgehead objective, which 
the 30th Division had not taken. The 
second part, the drive to the south, 
would provide the infantry division with 
an armored spearhead. But General 
Hobbs did not have operational control 
of Combat Command B. 

General Watson, the armored division 
commander, gave some consideration to 
this course of action but decided against 
it. An advance along the Pont-Hebert 
highway would present an open flank 
to the enemy between the highway and 
the Taute, and taking the crossroads and 
establishing adequate flank protection 
would involve the armored unit in a 
task that might delay the movement 
southward. General Watson therefore 
directed General Bohn to turn left im- 
mediately after crossing the Airel bridge, 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



107 



move southwest over a network of un- 
improved roads and trails, and reach the 
main highway leading south at a point 
three miles below the St. Jean-de-Daye 
crossroads. The division field order 
and overlay subsequently showed a short 
arrow pointing generally southwest from 
the Airel bridge. 

There was nothing unusual in send- 
ing armor over secondary roads or cross- 
country to outflank or bypass resistance 
before resuming an advance along the 
main axis, and General Watson did not 
think that the combat command would 
be unduly delayed. The distance to 
the main highway was between four and 
six miles. Although the combat com- 
mand had not made a prior reconnais- 
sance, the ground was believed lightly 
held by the enemy. The risk of getting 
the tanks involved in hedgerow tactics 
of fighting from one field to the next 
seemed slight, and the potential compli- 
cations of pointing the command di- 
agonally across the zones of two regi- 
ments of the 30th Division seemed mi- 
nor. 

Another factor that contributed to 
General Watson's decision on the route 
of advance was the framework of refer- 
ence that governed the employment of 
armor in the Cotentin at this time. 
The knowledge that German antitank 
guns were superior to American armor 
plate produced among American troops 
an unwholesome respect of all enemy 
antitank weapons. Perhaps the most 
effective was the German 88-mm. anti- 
aircraft gun, which was used also against 
ground targets. Just as Americans tend- 
ed to confuse assault guns with tanks, it 
became general practice to refer to all 
German antitank guns as 88's-the 75's 



as well as the lighter weapons, whether 
towed or self-propelled. The experi- 
ence of CCA of the 3d Armored Division 
at the end of June had specifically indi- 
cated that tanks could escape the deadly 
enemy antitank fire by avoiding the 
roads and trails and advancing cross- 
country. Directives and memoranda 
from higher headquarters endorsed the 
view. The 3d Armored Division train- 
ing had stressed the techniques of field- 
to-field movement; rapid advance along 
the narrow and restricted highways of 
the hedgerow country and under the 
sights of well-sited zeroed-in enemy 
weaponr was considered rash, reckless, 
and ill advised. 8 

General Bohn had divided his com- 
mand into three task forces— each formed 
around a reinforced tank battalion— 
and an administrative element. They 
were to deploy in column on a thousand- 
yard front and attack in normal armored 
manner, the leading task force advancing 
in two columns along parallel routes. 
Shortly after daybreak, 8 July, even be- 
fore all the combat command's units 
were across the Vire, the leading task 
force commenced the attack. Without 
artillery preparation, men and tanks be- 
gan to move southwest in an area trav- 
ersed by country roads and hedgerowed 
lanes. 

Almost at once the task force met and 
destroyed five Mark IV tanks attached 
to Kampfgruppe Heinz. In the ex- 
change of fire the task force lost one 
tank. Through this auspicious begin- 
ning augured well, the task force soon 



8 See, for example, XIX Corps Ltr, Notes on Com- 
bat Experience, 5 Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 
Unless otherwise noted, the documents cited in 
this chapter are in the 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



108 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Congestion at Airel Bridge 



became involved in the kind of tortuous 
advance that had become typical of of- 
fensive action in the hedgerow country. 
The armor overflowed the narrow 
trails and entered the fields, making it 
necessary for demolition teams and engi- 
neer bulldozers to breach the hedgerows. 
Though the task force received two ad- 
ditional dozers and encountered only 
light resistance, the day's gain totaled 
only about a mile and a half. 8 

The limited advance was disappoint- 
ing, particularly since only minor units 
had come to the aid of Kampjgruppe. 
Heinz during the day. General Watson 
informed General Bohn that the prog- 

"3(1 Annd Div CCB S-3 Jnl and File, entries 
uoo and 1128, 8 Jul. 



ress of the combat command was un- 
satisfactory. Pointing out the "great 
opportunity" that faced the command 
and the "good chance of a break 
through," he urged Bohn to fit his 
method of advance to the situation. If 
he found it impossible to go ahead on 
the roads, he was to move cross-country; 
if his tanks bogged down in the fields, 
he was to dispel among his subordinate 
commanders the "inflexible idea that 
cross-country progress is essential." 10 
Although there was no real difference 
between methods of advance in this area, 
General Bohn had emphasized to his 



,0 On General Watson's lack of clarity over the 
advantages of cross-country versus road advance, 
see tath AGp Immed Rpt 24, 9 Aug. 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



109 



task force commander the need for speed 
and had insisted that he use the roads 
wherever possible. The task force com- 
mander had been reluctant or perhaps 
simply unable to move his men and ve- 
hicles out of the fields. 

Meanwhile, in the rear areas of the 
bridgehead there was a disheartening 
spectacle of confusion, a confusion 
throttling an orderly development of 
the bridgehead and the attack. Seven 
infantry battalions, one tank battalion, 
and an artillery battalion of the 30th 
Division; one infantry battalion, three 
tank battalions, and two artillery bat- 
talions of CCB; plus an almost equal 
number of supporting troops of both 
units jammed an area of hedgerowed 
labyrinths scarcely four miles wide and 
less than three miles deep. To the 
tankers the fields seemed full of rifle- 
men; to the infantrymen the terrain ap- 
peared covered with armor. In this 
overpopulated morass of mud, tank 
treads chewed up wire and destroyed 
communications, while unemployed 
combat units jostled supply personnel 
attempting to carry out their functions. 
Infantrymen ignorant of the armored 
commitment were surprised by the ap- 
pearance of tanks, while tankers were 
indignant when they found infantrymen 
occupying fields useful as armored as- 
sembly areas. Experienced troops might 
have surmounted the difficulties engen- 
dered by restricted space, but both infan- 
trymen and tankers were novices. Nerv- 
ous soldiers of both units aggravated 
conditions by firing their weapons wild- 
ly in rear areas and on the flanks. Each 
organization accused the other of stifling 
the advance. 

By striking southwest immediately 



after crossing the Vire, the combat com- 
mand had impinged on the sector of the 
119th Infantry. Only after moving for- 
ward several miles would the armored 
unit have created a zone for itself be- 
tween the 119th and the 117th Regi- 
ments. Agreement on this procedure 
was reached by representatives of armor 
and infantry at a special conference for 
co-ordination during the afternoon of 8 
July. At the same time, the artillery 
commanders of the 3d Armored and 
30th Divisions were meeting to keep 
the artillery of one from firing on the 
troops of the other. 11 

General Hobbs complained bitterly 
of the presence of the combat command 
in the bridgehead. He protested that 
the armor was cluttering up his sector 
and bogging down his advance. The 
presence of tanks in his regimental rear 
areas, he was sure, was preventing ar- 
tillery, supplies, and men from reaching 
his forward areas quickly. Promiscuous 
tank fire, he reported, had caused six- 
teen casualties in his division. It was 
impossible, he contended, to protect his 
troops with artillery fire for fear of strik- 
ing armored elements. So incensed was 
he that he ordered his artillery to give 
the infantry the fire requested "wherever 
they are, irrespective of armor or any- 
thing else." He felt that either the 
combat command or the infantry di- 
vision had to be halted, for both could 
not operate in the restricted area. He 
was convinced that the 30th Division 
without CCB would reach the corps ob- 
jective rapidly, but that CCB without 
the 30th Division would "never get any- 

11 Memo by Brig Gen William K. Harrison, jr., 
Coordination CCB, 117th, 119th Inf, 8 Jul, 3d 
Armd Div CCB S-3 Jnl File. 



110 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



place." The armored force commander 
had been "sitting on his fanny all day, 
doing nothing" and had not "turned a 
track in 95% of his vehicles all day 
long." The 3d Armored Division com- 
mander had "only a hazy idea" of what 
was happening. And there were "too 
many people in the party," too many 
commanders giving un-co-ordinated or- 
ders. 12 

In hope of resolving the situation and 
introducing unity of command, General 
Corlett placed the responsibility of 
the bridgehead operations on General 
Hobbs. Attaching CCB to the 30th Di- 
vision on the evening of 8 July, Corlett 
directed Hobbs to get the armor and 
the infantry to make a co-ordinated ef- 
fort to the south. By this time, Hobbs 
did not want the combat command. He 
had his own attached tank battalion and 
tank destroyers, he asserted, and with 
them he could exploit the breakthrough 
his infantry had achieved. When Cor- 
lett advised that he would have to keep 
the combat command because it "could 
not go any place else," Hobbs agreed 
to let the armor "just trail along." 13 

The combat command was not entire- 
ly at fault. While it had not displayed 
the daring and dash expected of armor, 
the principal reason for the failure was 
the hasty, ill-planned, and un-co-ordi- 
nated commitment into a bridgehead 
of inadequate size. Its route of access 
into the bridgehead had been sharply 
restricted, its operational space was 
small, its routes of advance were poorly 
surfaced and narrow. The road net- 
work was deficient, the hedgerows pre- 



12 Hobbs Telecons, 2045, 2100, and 2112, 8 Jul. 

13 Telecons, Corlett and Hobbs, 2207 and 2210, 
8 Jul. 



sented successive, seemingly endless ob- 
stacles, and the swampy Cotentin low- 
land had become even more treacherous 
and soft because of rain. Operating in 
a zone that seemed to belong to another 
unit, men and commanders of the com- 
bat command felt like intruders. When 
they called for fire support from their 
organic artillery, they had to wait for 
clearance from the 30th Division Artil- 
lery. Attacking on a narrow front, the 
combat command held the bulk of its 
strength, useless, in the rear. Sepa- 
rated from its parent headquarters, the 
armored force received little guidance 
and encouragement. 

Concern over the minor advance and 
the disorder in the bridgehead had not 
detracted from another potential haz- 
ard. General Corlett had apparently 
supposed that crossing the Vire et Taute 
Canal and taking St. Jean-de-Daye would 
compel the Germans on the east bank 
of the Taute to withdraw. Counting 
on light delaying resistance, the corps 
commander had given Colonel Biddle's 
113th Cavalry Group the mission of 
clearing the area between the 30th Di- 
vision right flank and the Taute, but op- 
position on 8 July was so determined 
that the cavalry troops had had to dis- 
mount from their light tanks and ar- 
mored cars and fight through the hedge- 
rows like infantrymen. 14 Although ele- 
ments of the 30th Division secured the 
St. Jean-de-Daye crossroads on 8 July, 
they did not take le Desert, a few miles 
to the west. Anticipating the possibility 
of a counterattack from the Taute River 
area, General Corlett directed General 
Watson to send CCA into the bridge- 
head to protect the right flank. Specifi- 

14 See [Garth], St.-Ld, pp. 19-20, for the details. 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



111 



cally, the combat command was to rein- 
force the calvalry group. 

On the afternoon o£ 8 July, Brig. Gen. 
Doyle O. Hickey's Combat Command A 
crossed the Vire and moved west along 
the main road toward the Taute. Its 
passage through the bridgehead intensi- 
fied the congestion. To add to the con- 
fusion, the last battalion of the 120th 
Infantry entered the bridgehead after 
being replaced along the north bank of 
the Vire et Taute Canal by a suddenly 
available battalion of the arriving 35th 
Division. The battalion of the 120th 
moved south through St. Jean-de-Daye. 
When the infantry met and crossed 
the CCA column, which was moving 
west, inevitable delays occurred. "Every 
road is blocked by armor," Hobbs com- 
plained. 15 

Although General Hobbs had said he 
would let CCB trail along after the 30th 
Division in his attack south on 9 July, 
General Corlett insisted that he use the 
armor to spearhead his advance. The 
objective was no longer the high ground 
west of St. L6, which General Corlett 
felt could not be attained by a quick 
armored thrust, but instead Hill 91 at 
Hauts-Vents, a little more than three 
miles ahead of the combat command. 

About 300 feet above sea level and 
aptly named for the high winds that 
sweep across it, Hauts-Vents overlooks 
the Cotentin lowlands as far north as 
Carentan. It dominates the St. Jean- 
de-Daye-Pont-Hebert road and com- 
mands the Vire River crossing to the 
east that leads to St. L6. It would serve 
as a compromise objective. If CCB 

16 Telecons, Hobbs and Walker, 1615, 8 Jul, Cor- 
lett and Hobbs, 2210, 8 Jul; XIX Corps G-3 Per 
Rpt 32, 9 Jul. 



gained Hauts-Vents quickly, General 
Corlett thought he might then attack 
St. L6 from the northwest, or perhaps 
drive farther south to the original corps 
objective. With these intentions of the 
corps commander in mind, General 
Hobbs ordered General Bohn to resume 
his attack on 9 July, continuing south- 
west across the St. Jean-de-Daye-Pont- 
Hebert highway to Hauts-Vents and 
Hill 91. 

On the second day of the attack, 9 
July, General Bohn passed his second 
task force in column through the first. 
Passage was difficult because of the 
terrain, but by midmorning the task 
force was making slow progress across 
muddy fields and along narrow roads 
and trails. Only occasional harassing 
artillery fire came in. The opposition 
seemed slight. This prompted Hobbs 
to order Bohn to get the task force out 
of the fields and on to the roads. 

In part, the order was virtually mean- 
ingless. The roads in the area were 
little better than trails— narrow, sunken 
in many places, and frequently blocked 
by trees and overhanging hedges. 
Movement along these country lanes 
was not much different from cross-coun- 
try advance, and possibly worse. A 
fallen tree or a wrecked vehicle could 
easily immobilize an entire column. 
Floundering in the mud, righting the 
terrain rather than the enemy, the 
tankers could not advance with true 
armored rapidity. 

The meaning of the order lay not in 
General Hobbs' directive to get onto 
the roads but rather in his judgment 
that the combat command was not act- 
ing aggressively enough to get out of the 
repressive terrain. Although General 



112 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Bohn had ordered the attacking task 
force to use the roads in the same sense 
that Hobbs had meant it, the task force 
commander had instructed his units to 
use the "hedgerow method of advance." 
When Bohn repeated his order and 
when the task force commander seemed 
hesitant about carrying it out, Bohn 
started forward to expedite personally 
a change in the manner of attack. 

Traffic congestion, intensified by in- 
termittent rain, so delayed General Bohn 
that he did not reach the task force 
command post until an hour after noon. 
Reiterating his orders, he told the task 
force commander to get on the roads 
and move. In response, the officer de- 
manded with some heat whether Gener- 
al Bohn realized that he was "asking 
him to go contrary to General Corlett's 
directives, General Watson's directives, 
and the rehearsals ... of the tank-in- 
fantry teams." At this point, General 
Bohn himself took charge of the task 
force. 

While Bohn was attempting to get 
through the traffic congestion to the 
task force, General Hobbs was becoming 
increasingly dissatisfied with the slow 
progress. Unwilling to suffer longer 
what appeared to him a clear case of in- 
efficiency, Hobbs sent Bohn an ulti- 
matum: either reach the objective, 
Hauts- Vents, by 1700, or relinquish 
command. 

General Corlett had also become dis- 
satisfied. Learning at 1400 that the 
leading task force had advanced only 
600 yards in eight hours but had lost 
not a man or a tank to German fire, 
Corlett had come to the conclusion 
that Bohn was not pressing the attack 
with sufficient vigor. He requested 



General Walker, who was assisting be- 
cause of Corlett's illness, to inform 
Bohn that if Bohn's relief were recom- 
mended, he, Corlett, would have to con- 
cur. Walker transmitted the message 
shortly after Hobbs' ultimatum arrived. 

Still impatient to know why CCB was 
not getting underway, General Hobbs 
sent his assistant division commander, 
Brig. Gen. William K. Harrison, jr., to 
find out. General Harrison reached 
the task force about 1500; an hour 
later he was satisfied that General Bohn 
had the situation well in hand. 

With the task force commander still 
muttering that "it was fatal to get on 
the roads . . . after all the indoctrina- 
tion by the Division Commander," Gen- 
eral Bohn finally succeeded in reorgan- 
izing the task force so that it could move 
in column along parallel routes without 
the delay of plowing abreast through 
the fields. Anxious to give higher 
headquarters some sign of progress, he 
directed a tank company to proceed 
without delay and without pause south- 
west to the objective. The tank com- 
pany was to disregard communications 
with the rear, move to the St. Jean-de- 
Daye-Pont-Hebert highway, cross the 
highway, and continue on to Hill 91 at 
Hauts-Vents. 

Eight tanks of the company moved 
ahead down a narrow country lane in 
single file, spraying the ditches and 
hedges with machine gun fire as they 
advanced. They soon vanished from 
sight. 

One reason higher commanders were 
so insistent upon getting CCB rolling 
was their knowledge of the approach of 
substantial enemy forces: from the west 
a part of the 2d SS Panzer Division, an 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



113 



infantry battalion supported by a tank 
company; from the east the full power 
of the Panzer Lehr Division. Since 
early morning intelligence officers had 
been expressing considerable concern 
about what appeared to be a strong ene- 
my effort in the making, particularly 
after aerial reconnaissance confirmed 
the movement of enemy tanks toward the 
Taute and Vire sector. 16 General Cor- 
lett suggested that a screen of bazookas 
and antitank guns be thrown up close 
behind the forward troops, and that all 
artillery units be alerted for action 
against enemy armor. A rash of rumors 
spread through the ranks as everyone 
became acutely conscious of the prob- 
ability of counterattack. An incipient 
cloudiness turning into mist and later 
into drizzling rain obscured the ground, 
denied further observation, and thwarted 
air attack on the enemy columns. 

Later in the morning on 9 July, small 
probing elements of a tank-infantry task 
force of the 2d SS Panzer Division struck 
the 30th Division right flank near le 
Desert. The threat was contained by 
noontime, and the 30th Division be- 
came satisfied that the anticipated Ger- 
man effort had been stopped. Secure 
in this belief, the division artillery was 
displacing its headquarters early that 
afternoon when enemy infantry, tanks, 
and self-propelled guns again struck the 
right flank. For more than an hour, 
during the critical early stages of the 
German attack, the division artillery 
operated from its old command post 
with limited means of communication. 
Not until the fire-direction center 
opened at its new location could un- 



16 See, for example, 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl, 1140, 
9 Jul. 



qualified co-ordination with XIX Corps 
be achieved. Despite some uncertainty 
as to the positions of several U.S. in- 
fantry units, eighteen artillery battalions 
took the Germans under fire. The 
artillery was chiefly responsible for 
checking the German thrust. 17 More 
reassuring was the imminent arrival on 
that day of the 9th Division, which was 
to secure the 30th Division right flank. 18 
Though beaten back, the counterat- 
tack was not without consequences. 
Pursuing two Mark IV tanks down a 
country road, a company of the 743d 
Tank Battalion (attached to the 30th 
Division) fell into an ambush. German 
armor with screaming sirens attacked 
from the flank at close range, and in 
fifteen minutes the tank company had 
lost most of its equipment. Three 
damaged tanks were abandoned; nine 
tanks and a dozer were destroyed; five 
men were dead, four wounded, and 
thirty-six missing. Having lost two 
tanks to enemy action the previous day, 
the company now was virtually de- 
stroyed. 19 

Although the 30th Division's infantry 
generally held firm, a few overt acts 
were enough to cause hysteria among 
some individuals. Occupying positions 
several hundred yards ahead of the units 
on its flanks, an infantry company with- 
drew to improve its lateral liaison and 
communications. About the same time, 
a limited withdrawal by a nearby bat- 
talion prompted the erroneous report 
that an entire regiment was surrounded. 



17 30th Div Arty AAR, Jul; XIX Corps Msg 1815, 
9 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; AGp B KTB, 8, 9, 10 Jul; 
Telecon, Pemsel to Speidel, 2350, 8 Jul, AGp B 
KTB; Seventh Army KTB, 9 Jul. 

18 See below, Ch. VII. 

19 743d Tk Bn Rpts, 5 and 6, 8 and 9 Jul. 



114 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



This exaggeration was typical of the un- 
certainty and the rumors of disaster that 
spread through the bridgehead during 
the afternoon. News of the destruction 
of the tank company fed the apprehen- 
sion and contributed to a panic that 
touched about 200 soldiers who were 
performing close support missions. As 
soldiers streamed toward St. Jean-de- 
Daye in small, disorganized groups, two 
medical collecting stations, a cannon 
company, and an infantry battalion 
headquarters, becoming convinced that 
the enemy had made a penetration, also 
withdrew, but in good order, to the vi- 
cinity of St. Jean-de-Daye. On the basis 
of these withdrawals, front-line units be- 
came concerned about the integrity and 
disposition of adjacent troops. Several 
headquarters complained that subordi- 
nate units of other headquarters were 
fleeing in disorder. 20 

At the height of the counterattack, 
the eight tanks dispatched by General 
Bohn were proceeding toward the 
St. Jean-de-Daye-Pont-Hebert highway. 
Several miles ahead of CCB's leading 
task force, and angling southwest toward 
the highway, the tanks were to turn 
left when they reached the main road. 
They were then to go several hundred 
yards south before turning right on a 
secondary road to the objective, Hauts- 
Vents. Spraying the hedges and ditches 
continuously with machine gun fire, the 
tankers reached the north-south high- 
way. Instead of turning left and south, 
the company commander in the lead 
tank turned right and north toward 



20 30th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1749, 9 Jul; 3d Armd 
Div CCB S-3 Jnl, entry 1830, 9 Jul; XIX Corps IG 
Ltr, Rpt of Investigation of Incident . . . , 13 Jul. 



St. Jean-de-Daye. The other seven tanks 
in column followed. 21 

In the meantime, just south of the 
St. Jean-de-Daye crossroads, a company 
of the 823d Tank Destroyer Battalion 
had emplaced its 3-inch guns along the 
main highway. Stragglers falling back 
on the crossroads told the tank-destroyer 
crewmen of a breakthrough by German 
armor, which, the stragglers said, was 
just a short distance over the hill. Air 
bursts exploding in the vicinity from 
unidentified guns seemed to substantiate 
the reports. A short while later the re- 
ports took on added credence when one 
of the 30th Division's regiments passed 
on the erroneous information that fifty 
enemy tanks were moving north on the 
highway from Pont-Hebert toward St. 
Jean-de-Daye. Manning their guns and 
outposting them with bazookas, the 
tank-destroyer crewmen peered anx- 
iously through the drizzling rain of the 
foggy afternoon and listened for the 
sound of tank motors. 

They were fully alert when the sil- 
houette of a tank hull nosed over the 
top of a small rise a thousand yards 
away. Although there was little doubt 
that this was the enemy, a tank-destroyer 
officer radioed his company to ask 
whether any American tanks were in 
the area. The reply came at once: 
nearby armor was German. By then 
several other tanks had come into view. 
Firing machine guns and throwing an 
occasional round of high explosive into 
the adjacent fields, the tanks moved 



31 An element of CCA had made a similar mis- 
take at the end of June "because one TF got mixed 
up on prpper use of Slidex and Map Lay." 
(Penned note, n.d., 3d Armd Div CCB S-3 Jnl and 
File.) Slidex was a slide-rule type of decoding de- 
vice. 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



115 



steadily toward the tank-destroyer posi- 
tions. There could be no doubt that 
these were anything but the long- 
awaited enemy. The tank-destroyer 
guns opened fire at a range of 600 yards. 
The first round scored a direct hit on 
the lead tank. 

At this moment General Bohn at the 
task force command post was trying to 
get in touch with the tanks he had 
sent ahead. On the open radio channel 
he heard a cry of anguish and the voice 
of the tank-company commander say 
with awful clarity, "I am in dreadful 
agony." 

Before mutual identification could be 
established, crews of the tanks and tank 
destroyers together had sustained about 
ten casualties. Two tanks were knocked 
out. 22 

Reversing direction, the six remain- 
ing tanks began rolling back down the 
highway toward Hauts-Vents. Again 
they disappeared, again they lost com- 
munication with Bohn's headquarters. 
Although the tank radios could trans- 
mit, they perversely failed in reception. 

General Bohn subsequently succeeded 
in getting the bulk of his leading task 
force to the St. Jean-de-Daye-Pont- 
Hebert highway. By evening the task 
force was advancing toward the objec- 
tive. The third task force, having 
moved west and cross-country in the 
rear, debouched on the main road and 
rolled rapidly to the south. 

Just as it began to appear that CCB 
might complete its mission that night, 
General Hobbs ordered a halt. Gen- 
eral Bohn was to set up defensive posi- 
tions astride the Pont-Hebert road 



about a mile short of Hauts-Vents. Al- 
though Bohn requested permission to 
continue— on the consideration not only 
of weak opposition but also that the 
armor was at last free of the constricting 
terrain and could reach Hauts-Vents be- 
fore dark— Hobbs refused. 

General Hobbs had based his decision 
upon the likelihood that the Germans 
might continue to counterattack after 
dark. If the combat command took 
Hauts-Vents, the division would have to 
advance in a strong supporting effort. 
Although the division had sustained less 
than 300 casualties that day, most of 
them from enemy artillery fire, Hobbs 
felt that he needed to reorganize before 
attempting to attack. He judged that 
strong defensive positions were more im- 
portant. Without a supporting advance 
by infantry, he believed that Combat 
Command B would be too far in ad- 
vance at Hauts-Vents for adequate flank 
and rear protection in an area where 
enemy strength was manifest. He told 
Bohn to direct his troops to "button up 
along the line I gave them and get a 
good night's rest." 2 * 

As the combat command assumed the 
defensive, General Bohn tried to call 
back the six tanks that had disappeared. 
Shortly before darkness, the tankers had 
reported being on the hill objective at 
Hauts-Vents. A moment later, an air 
mission, requested earlier but delayed 
by the bad weather, struck Hauts-Vents 
in the fading light. Though American 
pilots strafed the six tanks, the tanks 
luckily escaped losses. Unable to re- 
ceive on their faulty radio sets, and 
ignorant of the order that had halted 



22 2d TD Gp Ltr, Rpt of Investigation, 11 Jul; 
823d TD Bn Rpt 15, 9 Jul. 



28 Telecon, Gen Bohn and Lt Col Harold E. 
Hassenfelt, 2015, 9 Jul. 



116 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the main force of CCB, the tankers 
formed a perimeter in a field at darkness 
and awaited the arrival of General Bohn 
and the rest of the force. 24 

The news that six tanks of Combat 
Command B were on the objective was 
received at headquarters of both the 
30th Division and the XIX Corps 
with some skepticism. After forty-eight 
hours of disappointment, it was difficult 
to believe that the armor had finally 
reached Hauts-Vents. But since the 
possibility existed and because there was 
further uncertainty about the precise 
positions of the rest of the combat com- 
mand, the corps and the division artil- 
lery had difficulty planning and exe- 
cuting their harassing and interdictory 
fires for the night. This was the final 
blow of another day of frustration in the 
attempt to achieve co-ordination between 
armor and infantry. 25 

Having warned General Bohn of re- 
lief if he did not reach his objective by 
1700, General Hobbs removed him from 
command five hours later. His grounds: 
the extreme caution that the combat 
command had displayed in conducting 
an attack against relatively light opposi- 
tion. For the lack of aggressiveness 
throughout the command, he held the 
senior officer personally responsible. 
Although Bohn's efforts on the after- 
noon of 9 July were commendable, he 
had not secured the co-operation of his 
subordinate commanders. Even though 
the limited roads and trails available to 
the combat command had intensified 
the problem of regrouping from a 



24 3d Armd Div CCB S-3 Jnl File, entry 2145, 9 
Jul; 30th Div G— 3 Jnl, Evening Msgs, 9 Jul. 

25 30th Sig Co Rpt 21,9 Jul; Telecons, Hobbs and 
Bohn, 1140, 9 Jul, Hobbs and Ednie, 1910, 9 Jul. 



"hedgerow-to-hedgerow" advance to one 
"down roads and trails," the failure ap- 
peared essentially that of command. "I 
know what you did personally," General 
Hobbs assured General Bohn, "[but] 
you're a victim of circumstances." 26 

Under Col. Dorrance S. Roysdon, 
CCB resumed the attack toward Hauts- 
Vents soon after daybreak on the third 
day, 10 July. The six tank crews, after 
waiting vainly all night for the combat 
command to join them on the objective, 
returned at dawn. Had they remained 
at Hauts-Vents, they would have facili- 
tated the advance of the main body. As 
it was, congestion on the sunken roads 
and enemy antitank fire hampered the 
command almost at once. A destroyed 
enemy tank blocked movement until 
bulldozers, maneuvering tortuously on 
the narrow road, cleared a bypass. The 
column continued until the destruction 
of the lead tank by enemy fire again 
blocked the way. The roads were so 
jammed with traffic and movement was 
so slow that Colonel Roysdon requested 
permission to use the main highway 
south to Pont-H^bert instead of the 
minor country roads leading southwest 
to Hauts-Vents. General Hobbs denied 
the request, for he wanted to keep the 
highway open for the 30th Division to 
attack south once the armor took Hill 
91. After a co-ordination conference 
attended by General Hobbs, General 
Watson, Colonel Roysdon, and an in- 
fantry regimental commander, the com- 
bat command, by midmorning, seemed 
to be moving ahead. "Whatever con- 
fusion we had with the armor is reason- 



26 XIX Corps IG Rpt of Investigation in the Re- 
lief of Brig Gen John J. Bohn, Jul 44. 



THE ATTEMPT TO EXPLOIT 



117 



ably well ironed out," Hobbs reported. 
"Roysdon is kicking them along." 27 

The honeymoon was short lived. 
That afternoon, as the hedgerow terrain 
and German fire continued to retard the 
advance, General Hobbs again be- 
came discontented. "If Colonel Roys- 
don doesn't do what he can do, and 
should have done by noon today," he 
threatened, he too would have to be 
relieved of command. Roysdon's "only 
trouble" was that he "wasn't doing any- 
thing." "Please get them out of our 
hair," Hobbs begged. 28 

In the evening General Corlett de- 
cided to detach CCB from the 30th 
Division as soon as Hill 91 at Hauts- 
Vents was secured. The infantry divi- 
sion alone would continue to the ridge 
west of St. L6, the final corps objec- 
tive. 29 

By this time, Panzer Lehr was mov- 
ing into the area. Hauts- Vents was no 
longer undefended and waiting to be 
occupied. A contingent of CCB did 
reach the top of Hill 91 on the eve- 
ning of 10 July, but strong enemy 
artillery and mortar fire forced with- 
drawal. Though unsuccessful in seizing 
and holding the ground, the contingent 
nevertheless disrupted Panzer Lehr 
preparations for an attack that had been 
planned to start shortly after midnight. 30 

Combat Command B jumped off 
again on the morning of 11 July. 
Enemy antitank guns east of the Vire 
River knocked out six tanks immedi- 

17 Telecon, Corlett and Hobbs, 1025, 10 J ul - 
28 Telecons, Corlett and Hobbs, 1750 and 1935, 
10 Jul. 

20 XIX Corps Ltr of Instrs, 10 Jul; 3d Armd Div 
CCB FO 5, ti Jul. 

'"Seventh Army KTB, 10 Jul; Panzer Lehr FO, 
10 Jul, Pz Lehr lb KTB; see below, Ch. VII, for 
the Panzer Lehr attack. 



ately, but the attack continued. Reach- 
ing the crest of Hill 91 once more, men 
and tanks again had to give way. A 
second assault, led personally by Colonel 
Roysdon, finally secured Hauts-Vents 
during the afternoon. The accomplish- 
ment caused Roysdon to characterize the 
morale of his exhausted troops as "amaz- 
ing"; his words of praise: "Enough can- 
not be said." 31 

Earlier in the afternoon General 
Hobbs had refused an offer by General 
Corlett of an additional tank battalion. 
He already had three battalions of CCB, 
he said, "sitting on their fannies." Not 
until a day later, with Hill 91 in hand, 
could Hobbs look at the matter dif- 
ferently. He agreed with Roysdon that 
the combat command had done a good 
job, and he regretted his relief of Gen- 
eral Bohn. "If he [Bohn] had had a 
little more of a chance," Hobbs ad- 
mitted, "he probably would have done 
the same thing [as Roysdon]." 32 

The entrance of CCB into the bridge- 
head had resulted in another frustration 
similar to those on the other active por- 
tions of the First Army front. Five days 
of combat had advanced the XIX Corps 
right wing only halfway to the ridge west 
of St. L6. Great promise of quick suc- 
cess had turned into failure primarily 
because of the un co ordinated commit- 
ment of the combat command into 
restricted operational space. Whether 
General Bradley had intended only a 
reinforced tank battalion to enter the 



31 XIX Corps G-3 Per Rpt 35, 12 Jul; 3d Armd 
Div G-3 Per Rpt 17, 11 Jul, and CCB S-3 Per 
Rpt, 11 Jul. Capt. George T. Stallings of the 33d 
Armored Regiment received the DSC for his actions 
between 8 and 11 July. 

"Telecons, Hobbs and West, 1310, 11 Jul, Hobbs 
and Corlett, 0830, 12 Jul. 



118 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



bridgehead on 7 July, as was later 
claimed, was an academic question by 
the morning of 8 July. 33 The entire 
combat command had crossed the Vire 
and was on the ground, and that fact 
was unalterable. Little more could be 

33 Interv of Capt Franklin Ferriss with Gen Bohn, 
14 Jul 44, in CI 259; Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 
27 Jul 44, S-56328, Pogue Files. 



done than to hope that the armor would 
disentangle itself from the congestion 
and the terrain. An opportunity to 
make a deep penetration had been 
missed, for by the time the combat com- 
mand got free of its external repressions 
and its internal inhibitions, the Ger- 
mans had plugged the gap. Panzer 
Lehr was ready to attack. 



CHAPTER VII 



The Offensive Continued 



By the end of the first week in July 
events on the battlefield of Normandy 
had modified German policies to some 
extent. Hitler, who had depended on 
the Air Force and the Navy to regain 
for the German ground forces a favor- 
able balance of build-up and mobility, 
realized that his reliance on Goering 
and Doenitz had been misplaced. He 
turned to his minister of production, 
Albert Speer, for increased industrial 
output of war materiel. With more 
heavy tanks and guns in the field, and 
with new weapons mass manufactured 
and distributed— jet-propelled planes, for 
example, and long-distance snorkel sub- 
marines—Hitler felt he might yet smash 
the Allied beachhead. Still hopeful, he 
counted on the Army in the west to stall 
for time, denying the Allies maneuver 
room and major ports, until eventually 
the new weapons might be brought to 
bear. Until then, German commanders 
in the west were to improve their de- 
fenses, disengage their armor from the 
front and replace tanks with infantry, 
and mount limited objective attacks and 
night operations to keep the Allies off 
balance. Planning for offensive warfare 
was temporarily discontinued. 1 



1 Hitler Ltr, 8 Jul, quoted in OB WEST Ltr, 8 
Jul, AGp la Fuehrer Befehle; ONI Fuehrer Conf, 
9 Jul; MS # P-069 (Kreipe) ; OB WEST KTB, 10 
Jul. 



The Battle for Caen 

In the first week of July the Allies 
had command of the air, their ground 
build-up was proceeding favorably, and 
enemy reinforcements moving toward 
the front were being delayed. General 
Eisenhower nevertheless was highly con- 
scious of the unfulfilled need for greater 
maneuver room, additional ports and 
airfield sites, and open country "where 
our present superiority can be used." 
Troubled by the "slow and laborious" 
advance of the First Army in the 
Cotentin— due, he realized, to terrain 
and weather conditions as much as to 
enemy resistance— he was worried more 
by the shallowness of the British sector, 
where one of the invasion beaches, a 
reception point for supplies and person- 
nel coming from England, was still 
under enemy fire. He questioned 
whether General Montgomery, in his 
professed zeal to attract enemy forces to 
his front and away from the American 
sector, was making sufficient effort to 
expand the British part of the beach- 
head. "We must use all possible energy 
in a determined effort," General Eisen- 
hower wrote Montgomery, "to prevent a 
stalemate" and to insure against "fight- 
ing a major defensive battle with the 
slight depth we now have" on the Con- 
tinent. 2 

2 Eisenhower to Montgomery, 7 Jul, SGS SHAEF 
File 381, Overlord, I (a) . 



120 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



"I am, myself, quite happy about the 
situation," General Montgomery re- 
plied. He had maintained Allied initia- 
tive, prevented reverses, and set into 
motion "a very definite plan." Three 
needs determined Montgomery's opera- 
tions—the Breton ports, space for maneu- 
ver, and destruction of German forces. 
"Of one thing you can be quite sure," 
General Montgomery promised; "there 
will be no stalemate." 3 

While the Americans were struggling 
in the Cotentin, the British had 
mounted another effort against Caen. 
Because in earlier attempts to take the 
city the British had been unable to mass 
sufficient artillery to destroy the strong 
defenses, the planners discussed the use 
of heavy bombers to deliver preparatory 
fire for the ground action. In February 
and March 1944 heavy bombers had 
launched attacks at Cassino in Italy to 
assist ground troops, but without notable 
success, and during June heavy bombers 
had rendered occasional close support in 
France by attacking targets that the chief 
of the RAF Bomber Command sar- 
castically termed of "immediate and 
fleeting importance." 4 But there had 
been no large-scale use of heavy bombers 
in direct support of the ground troops. 

Use of bombers in a direct support 
role hinged upon the answer to two 
major questions: Was it justifiable to 
divert heavy bombers from their main 
strategic role? Could the planes bomb 
close enough to the forward line to fa- 
cilitate the ground advance without un- 
duly exposing the troops to the hazards 

3 Montgomery to Eisenhower, 8 Jul, SGS SHAEF 
File 381, Overlord I (a) . 

* Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 339; Marshal of the 
RAF, Sir Arthur Harris, Bomber Offensive (Lon- 
don: Collins, 1947), p. 210. 



of accidental bomb spillage and inac- 
curate aim? General Eisenhower re- 
solved the first question. He favored 
using strategic air for tactical ends when- 
ever those ends were important and 
profitable. Caen, he believed, was im- 
portant and profitable. 5 Ground and 
air planning staffs worked out a solution 
to the second question. A bomb line 
6,000 yards (about three and a half 
miles) ahead of the leading units, they 
decided, would minimize the danger to 
friendly ground troops. 

For the July attack on Caen, heavy 
bombers were to saturate a rectangular 
target, 4,000 by 1,500 yards, on the 
northern outskirts of the city. The pur- 
pose was to destroy both infantry and 
artillery positions, cut off forward troops 
from supply, demoralize enemy soldiers 
in and out of the target zone, and, 
finally, boost British ground force mo- 
rale. Field artillery was to cover the 
gap between the British line and the air 
target with normal preparation fires. 
(Map 6)\ 

Canadian troops initiated the offen- 
sive on 4 July with a preliminary attack 
designed to secure the western exits of 
Caen. Three days later, at 2150 on 
7 July, 460 planes of the RAF Bomber 
Command dropped 2,300 tons of high 
explosive bombs in forty minutes. Six 
hours later, just before dawn on 8 July, 
three British and Canadian divisions at- 
tacked directly toward the objective with 
three armored brigades in immediate 
support and a fourth in reserve. 
Though the British found many Ger- 
mans stunned, some units cut off from 
ammunition and gasoline supplies, and 



5 Capt Butcher (USNR) , Diary, 29 Jun 44, Pogue 
Files. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 




one regiment virtually decimated, resist- 
ance did not collapse, the fighting was 
bitter, casualties heavy. Widespread 
debris and tremendous craters further 
obstructed a rapid ground advance. 6 

The full force of the air bombard- 
ment had struck the 16th Luftwaffe 
Field Division, recently arrived in Nor- 
mandy from the Pas-de-Calais to replace 
an armored division in the Panzer 

8 Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 1 1 3ft; 
Stacey, The Canadian Army, pp. 187ft; [Robert W. 
Ackerman], Employment of Strategic Bombers in 
a Tactical Role, 1941-1951, USAF Hist Study 88 
(Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Air University, 
1953), p. 86; Harris, Bomber Offensive, p. an. 



Group West line. With one regiment 
of the 16th destroyed and quickly over- 
run, Eberbach committed without result 
the powerful 21st Panzer Division, 
which had just been moved out of the 
line and into reserve. The attack of 
the 21st "did not have much point," 
according to Rommel, "because of the 
strong enemy artillery fire." The air 
bombardment had also fallen on the 
excellent 12th SS Panzer Division, still 
not relieved from front-line defensive 
duty as had been hoped. Though some 
strongpoints in this unit's main line of 
resistance held until burned out by 



122 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



flame-throwing British tanks, the divi- 
sion eventually was forced to give way. 
On the evening of 8 July, Rommel and 
Eberbach decided to prepare to evacuate 
Caen. They began by directing that all 
heavy weapons be moved across the 
Orne River, which flows through the 
city. 7 

The Luftwaffe field division lost 75 
percent of its infantrymen and all of 
its battalion commanders in those units 
in contact with the British. No longer 
able to fight as an independent unit, the 
division was attached to the 21st Panzer 
Division. The 12th SS Panzer Division 
lost twenty medium tanks, several 
88-mm. pieces, all its antitank guns, and 
a high percentage of its troops. All 
together, Rommel estimated losses as the 
equivalent of four battalions of men. 
Eberbach moved the 1st SS Panzer Divi- 
sion to positions southeast of Caen to 
forestall a British breakthrough, but 
Kluge, by refusing to permit its commit- 
ment, accepted the eventual loss of 
Caen. 8 

On the morning of 9 July British and 
Canadian troops entered Caen from the 
flanks and reached the Orne River. 
The bridges across the river had been 
destroyed or were blocked by rubble, 
and there the troops halted. 9 

The Allied ground commander, Gen- 
eral Montgomery, had not moved much 



7 OB WEST KTB, Anlagen 536 and 5^7. 

8 Conf, Rommel and Eberbach, 2100, 8 Jul, and 
Telecon, Rommel and Gause, 1115, 9 Jul, Pz Gp 
West KTB; Telecons, Rommel to Kluge, 0655, 9 
Jul, Speidel to Blumentritt, 0950, 9 Jul, Eberbach 
to Tempelhoff, 0910, 11 Jul, AGp B KTB; Eber- 
bach to Rommel, 10 Jul', Pz Gp W KTB, Anlage 
104; Map dated 10 Jul, OKW WFSt Op (H), Lage 
West, Stand 9.VII.44; OB WEST KTB, 9 Jul. 

" Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 10 Jul, SGS 
SHAEF File 381, Opn Overlord, I (a). 



closer toward the Breton ports, he had 
not gained much maneuver space, nor 
had he captured all of Caen. But he 
had inflicted heavy losses on the Ger- 
mans. With Panzer Lehr moving to 
the Seventh Army sector to counter the 
breakthrough threatened by American 
troops between the Taute and the Vire, 
Panzer Group West, after meeting the 
British attack, was in difficult straits. 

On 10 July Montgomery directed the 
British Second Army to drive south be- 
tween Caumont and Caen in order 
to broaden the beachhead and open 
lateral routes of communication. Sub- 
sequently, the army was also to advance 
across the Orne River at Caen toward 
Falaise, if it could do so "without undue 
losses," in order to position its armor 
for a drive in strength farther south or 
toward the Seine. The First U.S. Army 
was to continue its offensive to the 
south. 10 

Vitally interested in maneuver room 
and the Breton ports, General Bradley 
had been attempting to move out of 
the Cotentin swamps to dry land along 
the Coutances— Caumont line, where he 
could mount an attack toward Brittany. 
But after nearly a week of bitter fight- 
ing, both the VIII and the VII Corps 
on the army right seemed to be halted, 
and the XIX Corps had been unable to 
develop and extend its bridgehead be- 
tween the Taute and the Vire. Since 
the Germans were defending with unex- 
pected determination, making excellent 
use of the terrain, and inflicting con- 
siderable losses, prospects of continuing 
a frontal attack along the well-defined 
corridors leading through the Cotentin 



10 21 AGp Dir, M-510, 10 Jul; Montgomery, 
Normandy to the Baltic, p. 120. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



123 




British Troops clearing away rubble in Caen, p July. 



marshes appeared to assure only a repeti- 
tion of painful progress at prohibitive 
cost. Getting to the first objective, the 
Coutances-Caumont line, would so 
weaken the army that a delay would 
have to preface a subsequent effort to 
get to Brittany. 

Searching for a different way to gain 
the Coutances-Caumont line, General 
Bradley began to consider that a power- 
ful attack on a very narrow front might 
dissolve the hedgerow stalemate. Yet 
before he could mass forces on a narrow 
front, he had to get at least partially out 
of the Cotentin lowlands. He decided 



that ground near the Lessay-St. L6-Cau- 
mont highway might serve his purposes. 
A compromise objective, it would per- 
haps give sufficient dTy land for the at- 
tack to the Coutances-Caumont line. 

While General Bradley was bringing 
his idea to maturity, the slow and pain- 
ful advance through the hedgerows con- 
tinued. 11 

Toward Lessay 
After five days of attack in July, Gen- 

" Bradley, Soldier's A'iory, p. 329; FUSA Opns 
Iustrs, 8 Jul. 



124 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



eral Middleton's VIII Corps had moved 
only to the high ground near la Haye- 
du-Puits. General Wyche's 79th Divi- 
sion, on the right, occupied most of the 
Montgardon ridge; General Ridgway's 
82d Airborne Division had taken the 
Poterie ridge in the corps center; and 
General Landrum's 90th Division, on 
the left, held precarious positions on the 
northeast portion of Mont Castre. The 
infantry divisions were to have met just 
south of la Haye-du-Puits to pinch out 
the airborne troops and allow them to 
return to England, but by the evening 
of 7 July the divisions on the flanks were 
still more than three miles apart. 
{Map II) They had each sustained 
casualties of close to 15 percent of origi- 
nal strength. To give the attack im- 
petus, General Middleton committed the 
newly arrived 8th Division. 

To make room for the new unit, 
General Middleton redrew the division 
boundaries. He restricted the 79th Di- 
vision to a narrow sector along the west 
coast of the Cotehtin, where it was to 
perform a clearing mission as far south 
as the Ay River estuary. He reoriented 
the 90th Division from a south by south- 
west direction to an axis of advance 
generally south by southeast; at the 
Seves River near Periers the 90th was to 
be pinched out on its left by the VII 
Corps in the Carentan— Periers isthmus 
and on its right by the 8th Division. 
To the fresh troops of the 8th Division, 
General Middleton gave the mission of 
making the main effort of the corps: 
moving to the Ay River between Lessay 
and Periers and securing a bridgehead 
over the river. 12 

Although la Haye-du-Puits was in the 



8th Division zone, General Middleton 
directed the 79th Division to take it, 
probably because the 79th had already 
started the job. 13 The town was held 
by only about 1 50 Germans, who lacked 
antitank weapons but defended with 
machine guns, small arms, and mortars. 
Virtually surrounded, shelled almost 
constantly by artillery and tanks, the 
Germans had mined the approaches to 
the town and refused to capitulate. 
The 79th therefore made a thorough 
plan of attack; artillery, armor, and tank 
destroyers were to support an assault bat- 
talion of infantry. 

Late in the afternoon of 8 July, as 
heavy fire crashed overhead, infantry- 
men moved toward German mine fields 
strung with wire in checkerboard pat- 
terns about a foot off the ground. As 
the riflemen tried to high-step over the 
wire, enemy mortar bursts bracketed 
them. Machine gunners in trenches 
that the Americans had not even sus- 
pected of being in existence opened fire. 
Taking many casualties, three rifle 
companies advanced. Engineers placed 
their white tapes across mine-swept 
areas, while bulldozers cut avenues 
through the hedgerows for the support- 
ing tanks. The infantry reached the 
northwest edge of la Haye-du-Puits by 
evening. One rifle company by then 
was without commissioned officers, but 
its men methodically cleared the rail- 
road yards and inched toward the center 
of town. After a bloody house cleaning 
by the light of flaming buildings, the 
79th Division turned la Haye-du-Puits 



1 VIII Corps FO 7, 7 Jul, and AAR, Jul. 



ia 79th Div Telecon, 2330, 7 Jul, VIII Corps G— 3 
Jnl File; Msg, 28th Inf to 8th Div, 0705, 8 Jul, 8th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



125 



over to the 8th Division at noon, 

9 July- 14 

Except for taking la Haye-du-Puits, 
the VIII Corps made no advance during 

8 and g July. The temporary stalemate 
resulted from the last German attempts 
to retake the heights near the town— the 
Montgardon ridge and Mont Castre. 
Although the Germans failed to reach 
the high ground, they did prevent prog- 
ress toward Lessay-Periers. 

At the time it appeared that the fail- 
ure to move for forty-eight hours rested 
squarely on the 8th Division, which 
was exhibiting the usual faults of a unit 
new to combat. Commanded by Maj. 
Gen. William C. McMahon, the 8th was 
rated one of the best-trained U.S. divi- 
sions in the European theater. Never- 
theless, hesitation, inertia, and disorgani- 
zation marked its first attempts to 
advance. Inaccurate reporting of map 
locations, large numbers of stragglers, 
and poor employment of attached units 
were usual symptoms of inexperience, 
but the division also demonstrated a 
particular ineptness in the realms of 
organization and control. When the 
90th Division insisted that a regimental 
commander take responsibility for a sec- 
tor assigned to him, he reported, "We 
explained we could not do so tonite or 
tomorrow morning. Must have time." 
After the division had struggled for a 
day to attain a measure of organization, 
a neighboring unit noted, "Everyone 
was more or less confused. . . . They 
didn't seem to be operating according to 
any particular plan." The deputy army 
commander, Lt. Gen. Courtney H. 

14 314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat, p. 
22; Wyche Diary; 79th Div AAR, Jul; VIII Corps 
G-3 Jnl File, 7 and 8 Jul; 8th Div G-3 Jnl, 8 and 

9 Jul. 



Hodges, visited the division commander 
and learned that "the 8th had made no 
known progress, for reasons not very 
clear." 15 

The commitment of the division coin- 
cided with vigorous local counterattacks 
launched by the enemy. Nevertheless, 
even after the enemy was repelled or 
contained, the subordinate units failed 
to press forward. General McMahon 
confessed more than once that he did 
not know exactly what was holding up 
his troops. 16 The solution he applied 
was to relieve the commanders of both 
committed regiments. About the same 
time the energetic assistant division com- 
mander, Brig. Gen. Nelson M. Walker, 
was killed as he attempted to organize 
an infantry battalion for an attack. 17 
Finally, four days after committing the 
8th Division, General Middleton re- 
lieved the commander. 

Brig. Gen. Donald A. Stroh, formerly 
assistant commander of the gth Division, 
assumed command. Advocating side- 
slipping and flanking movements, he 
committed his reserve regiment imme- 
diately in hope of gaining his objec- 
tive quickly. Without special hedgerow 
training, the division learned through 
its own errors how to solve the problems 
of attack and soon began to manifest 
that steady if unspectacular advance that 
was feasible in the hedgerows. The 
troops moved with increasing confi- 
dence, maintaining momentum by by- 

16 8th Div G— 3 Jnl, 8 Jul, and entry 2400, 9 Jul; 
90th Div Msg, 1105, 8 Jul, and VIII Corps Msg, 
0940, 9 Jul, VIII Corps G-3 Jnl and File; CI 47 
(8th Div) ; 357th Inf Jnl, entry 1017, 9 Jul; Sylvan 
Diary, 10 Jul. 

16 8th Div G— 3 Jnl, entries 1810, 8 Jul, and 1540, 
9 Jul. 

17 General Walker was posthumously awarded the 
DSC. 



126 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



passing small isolated enemy groups. 18 
Despite continuing resistance, the 
division occupied the ridge overlooking 
the Ay River on 14 July and began to 
reconnoiter for crossing sites. 

The 79th Division, which had at- 
tempted to advance south of the Mont- 
gardon ridge, had sustained heavy casu- 
alties and had moved not at all during 
8 and 9 July. 19 A typical rifle company 
had one officer and 94 men on 7 July, 
only 47 men two days later. 

When German pressure lessened on 
10 July, General Wyche again moved 
the division toward the Ay estuary, a 
blue blob of water shimmering tanta- 
lizingly three miles away in the midst of 
the green lowland. Jockeying his sub- 
ordinate units in a series of apparently 
unrelated moves, short jabs that took 
advantage of local enemy weakness, 
General Wyche pressed his advance 
down the terrain that sloped toward 
Lessay. A fortunate mistake that oc- 
curred in the late afternoon of 11 July 
facilitated progress. Bombing inadvert- 
ently 4,000 yards inside the safety line, 
American planes rendered unexpected 
close support. As a result, the division 
easily took Angoville-sur-Ay. The re- 

18 VIII Corps Msg, 1430, 12 Jul, 8th Div Msg, 
1800, 12 Jul, and Jnl, entry 1900, 12 Jul, 8th Div 
G-3 Jnl File; CI 47 (8th Div) . Capt. Harry L. 
Gentry, an artillery officer who took command of 
leaderless infantry soldiers during an attack, 1st 
Lt. William L. Pryor, who singlehandedly covered 
the withdrawal of his company, and Pfc. Leo T. 
Zingale were awarded the DSC for their actions 
on 10 July. Pfc. Walter S. Wanielista, for his ac- 
tions on 11 July, and Sgt. Harry Weiss (post- 
humously) , for his singlehanded capture of a pill- 
box on 13 July, also received DSC's. 

19 T/5 John G. Prentice of the 125th Cavalry 
Reconnaissance Squadron, for remaining in his 
tank though it had been set ablaze by an enemy 
shell and continuing to fire his gun until killed by 
a second direct hit, was awarded the DSC. 



maining distance to the Ay River was 
marked by decreasing resistance. 

The 79th Division reached the Ay 
River on 14 July. Although Lessay re- 
mained in German hands, General 
Wyche had cleared the coastal sector be- 
tween la Haye-du-Puits and the estuary. 
The effort might have seemed easy in 
retrospect, but it had cost close to 2,000 
men. 20 

On the corps left, the 90th Division, 
which had been brutally handled by the 
Germans while taking Mont Castre and 
trying to push through the Beaucoudray 
corridor, clung doggedly to positions on 
the northeast portion of Mont Castre. 
As the enemy launched strong and re- 
peated attacks on 8 and 9 July, General 
Landrum reinforced his infantry not 
only by committing his engineers but 
also by forming and employing miscel- 
laneous groups of cooks, drivers, and 
clerks, as well as dismounted cavalry, 
to guard lines of communications and 
fill gaps in the infantry positions. To 
perform the normal engineer functions 
in the division area, the corps tem- 
porarily attached one of its battalions 
to the 90th Division. The 8 2d Air- 
borne Division also helped. One enter- 
prising officer set up a consolidated ob- 
servation post in a chateau stable tower 
and on 8 July massed the fires of his 
regimental mortars on a counterattack 
in the 90th Division zone. This was a 
last burst of exuberance for the air- 
borne unit; three days later the troops 
moved to the beach for transport to 
England. 21 

As the German pressure diminished 

20 79th Div AAR, Jul; Wyche Diary; FUSA Daily 
Estimated Loss Rpt. 

21 315th Engr C Bn Jnl, Jul; 82d Abn Div AAR, 
Jun and Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



127 



on 10 July, the depleted regiment on 
the 90th Division left, the 357th Infan- 
try, attacked in the Beaucoudray cor- 
ridor. Enemy machine gun, mortar, 
and artillery fire brought disorganiza- 
tion at once. The previous loss of com- 
missioned and noncommissioned officers 
made effective control difficult. When 
two rifle companies broke ranks and 
fled, the regiment canceled further of- 
fensive effort for the day. 

At the same time, a battalion of the 
358th Infantry pushed through the 
dense thickets of Mont Castre and put 
to rout platoon-sized groups of Germans 
at close range. In the late afternoon 
the leading company with the help of 
six tanks reached the edge of the woods 
and the south slope of Mont Castre. As 
they left the concealment of the trees, 
German self-propelled guns opened 
fire on them. Flat-trajectory shells de- 
stroyed the tanks immediately and 
forced the infantry company, reduced to 
one officer and twenty-four men, back 
into the forest. 22 

Despite this local success, the Ger- 
mans at the end of 10 July at last vir- 
tually abandoned Mont Castre. On the 
following day the 358th Infantry de- 
scended the south slope of the hill mass 
against little opposition. 23 The situa- 
tion eased; General Landrum relieved 
the division engineers of their infantry 
role. On 12 July the 357th Infantry 
moved through Beaucoudray against no 
more than perfunctory opposition. 



22 Taylor Notes on Mont Castre, ML-1071. Lt. 
Col. Jacob W. Bealke, Jr., and Capt. John W. Marsh 
received the DSC, the latter posthumously, for their 
actions this day. 

23 Pfc. Theodore G. Wagner, who crawled for- 
ward alone to destroy a key machine gun emplace- 
ment with grenades, was awarded the DSC. 



By this time the division strength was 
so diminished that small German delay- 
ing groups exacted proportionately 
higher prices for local objectives. No 
company totaled more than a hundred 
men. Operating as a single battle 
group of but 122 men and 4 officers, the 
rifle components of the 3d Battalion, 
358th Infantry, suffered 40 casualties, in- 
cluding all of the officers, at a crossroad 
ambush on 12 July. 24 

Reduced ranks and fatigue, the hedge- 
row terrain, and tactical, supply, and 
communication difficulties combined to 
deny the 90th Division a rapid advance 
in pursuit of a withdrawing enemy. It 
was 14 July when the division reached 
the Seves River and established contact 
with the VII Corps on the left. General 
Landrum was finally at his objective, 
three miles north of Periers, but the 
move across the few miles from Mont 
Castre had cost almost 2,000 casualties. 25 

After twelve days and over 10,000 cas- 
ualties, the VIII Corps had moved across 
seven miles of hedgerows to the banks 
of the Ay and the Seves River. Early 
hope that the Germans would break 
quickly had long been dispelled. The 
enemy had given ground only grudg- 
ingly. Not until 10 July had the Ger- 
mans weakened even slightly. Not until 
13 July had they begun a genuine with- 
drawal to positions south of the Ay and 
the Seves. 

For all the lack of encouragement 
from an American viewpoint, Choltitz, 



24 1st Lt. Hubert G. Miller, a company com- 
mander who though wounded took command of a 
leaderless battalion, and Lt. Col. Frederick H. 
Loomis, who led four tanks and ten men in a 
successful attack, received the DSC. 

26 90th Div AAR, Jul; FUSA Daily Estimated 
Loss Rpts, Jul. 



128 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the LXXXIV Corps commander oppos- 
ing the VIII Corps, had been increas- 
ingly concerned. He had suffered a 
minor brain concussion, and what was 
worse, he had seen all the reserves in 
his sector committed by 12 July, even 
the new arrivals from Brittany. The 
Panzer Lehr commander had threatened 
simply to take off with his tanks if he 
did not get reinforcements. Without 
reinforcements to send, Kluge on 13 
July authorized the corps to fall back to 
the south banks of the two rivers. The 
withdrawal begun that evening was 
gradual and orderly. 26 

For the Americans, the Lessay-Periers 
line was only about one third of the 
distance to Coutances, the original VIII 
Corps objective. When the grinding at- 
tack through the hedgerows ceased, at 
least temporarily, on 14 July, Coutances, 
fourteen miles to the south, seemed as 
unattainable for the moment as Berlin. 
Yet a new army operation was being 
contemplated, an operation hopefully 
designed to gain Coutances more easily 
than by continuing a purely frontal as- 
sault. 

Toward Periers 

From a one-division limited objective 
attack, the VII Corps effort had become 
a two-division attack in the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus. By 8 July the 83d and 
4th Divisions had made such small gains, 
despite strenuous action, that there was 
still no space to employ the available 9th 
Division. The narrow zone of opera- 
tions and the terrain had inhibited 

28 Telecons, Pemsel to Speidel, 1315, 13 Jul, and 
Choltitz to Pemsel, 1930, 13 Jul, Seventh Army Tel 
Msgs; Telecons, Speidel and Zimmerman, 1635 and 
1700, 13 Jul, AGp B KTB; OB WEST KTB, 13 
Jul, and Anlagen 611 and 612. 



maneuver. Numerous streams and 
marshes and the hedgerows had broken 
large-scale attacks into small, local en- 
gagements. A resourceful enemy— the 
6th Parachute Regiment, more and 
more units of the iyth SS Panzer Grena- 
dier Division, and artillery and tank 
elements of the 2d SS Panzer Division- 
had felled trees to block the roads, used 
roaming tanks in mobile defense, and 
covered crossroads with devastating fire. 
Though depleted and battered by supe- 
rior numbers, the Germans had shuffled 
their units skillfully and continued to 
make expert use of the terrain. They 
had revealed no signs of cracking sud- 
denly under the weight of the corps 
attack. 

Because of improved weather con- 
ditions, over a hundred planes of the 
IX Tactical Air Command on 8 July 
attacked along the VII Corps front only 
a few hundred feet ahead of a front line 
marked by artillery. The assistance 
had small effect. Even more discour- 
aging was evidence that the Germans 
were bringing more tanks into the Car- 
entan-Periers isthmus. Enemy patrols, 
each composed of a tank and fifteen to 
thirty infantrymen, probed the front and 
made local penetrations, two of which 
overran battalion aid stations of the 83d 
Division. 

The forward positions of the corps 
were about five miles below Carentan 
and still a mile short of Sainteny. 
Twelve air miles due south of Sainteny 
was the final corps objective, a portion 
of the high ground extending generally 
from Coutances to Caumont. At the 
rate of advance made the preceding 
week, the final objective was at least a 
month and a half distant, but General 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



129 



Collins kept his interest focused on it. 
The 4th Division was to secure high 
ground near Periers, then move south to 
cut the Lessay-Periers highway. The 
83d Division was to gain the west bank 
of the Taute River, cross the stream, 
and move south to cut the Periers-St. 
L6 road. The 9th Division would have 
to be employed outside the Caretan- 
Periers isthmus. 27 

On the right (western) half of the 
Carentan-Periers isthmus, General Bar- 
ton was finally able on 8 July to bring 
all three regiments of his 4th Division 
into the sector available to him, but 
only the 22d Infantry (Col. Charles T. 
Lanham) was directed toward Periers. 
Deployed on the narrowest portion of 
the isthmus, squeezed by the Prairies 
Marecageuses de Gorges on the right, 
the regiment was on the verge of leaving 
the narrow neck of land that ends near 
Sainteny. Even this prospect meant 
little, for the area southwest of Sainteny 
offered small hope of rapid advance. 
Dry ground suitable for military opera- 
tions was nonexistent. The sluggish 
Seves and Holerotte Rivers were swollen 
with rain, transforming the six miles of 
approach to Periers into a desolate bog 
scarcely distinguishable from swamp. 
The division not only had to fight the 
soggy crust of the land and the high 
water table, it also had to cross in- 
numerable drainage ditches, small 
streams, and inundated marshes in an 
area without a single hard-surfaced road. 
The terrain alone would have been a 
serious obstacle; defended by Germans 
it was almost impassable. 

Restricted by inadequate maneuver 

"VII Corps AAR, Jul, FO 5, 9 Jul (and An- 
nex 2) . 



space, hindered by soft marshland, hand- 
icapped by the difficulties of observation, 
General Barton was unable to con- 
centrate the power of his infantry and 
supporting arms in a sustained effort. 
Even the four battalions organic to the 
division artillery and the additional 
attached battalion of medium artillery 
were rarely able to mass their fires effec- 
tively. Because of the compartmen- 
talizing effect of the terrain, General Bar- 
ton attacked with regimental combat 
teams that pursued quite independent 
actions. Some measure of co-ordina- 
tion in the attack could be attempted at 
the regimental level; more often it was 
feasible only at the battalion echelon. 

While the 2 2d Infantry fought 
through the narrowest neck of the isth- 
mus and the 12 th rested in reserve, the 
8th was trying to clear in a slow and 
methodical operation the small area on 
the division right rear, the area just 
north of the corridor and adjacent to 
the Prairies Marecageuses de Gorges. 
Four separate attacks since 8 July had 
failed. But on 10 July the Germans 
launched a counterattack; with enemy 
soldiers in the open for the first time, 
American artillery and mortar fire 
decimated their ranks. Striking quickly, 
the 8th Infantry caught the enemy off 
balance. Infantry and tanks swept the 
area, collecting 49 prisoners, burying 
480 German dead, and incurring 4 
casualties in return. On 1 1 July the 
4th Division was ready to add the 8th 
Infantry to its effort toward Periers and 
attempt to blast through the corridor 
just north of Sainteny. 

Still there was no sudden propulsion 
forward. The 2 2d Infantry moved into 
swampy terrain on the right for about 



130 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



two miles against diminishing opposi- 
tion; patrols crossed the Holerotte and 
the Seves Rivers on 11 and 12 July and 
sought to make contact with the 90th 
Division, which was descending along 
the western edge of the great marsh. 
The other two regiments in columns of 
battalions fought toward Periers against 
strong resistance. Aided by occasional 
dive-bombers during the infrequent days 
of good weather, the division had 
advanced about two. miles below Saint- 
eny by 15 July. At the end of that day, 
still four miles short of Periers, General 
Barton received the order to halt. 

The 4th Division was to be relieved 
and sent into reserve. In ten days of 
combat it had sustained approximately 
2,300 casualties, including three battal- 
ion commanders and nine rifle company 
commanders. 28 Progress at this cost 
was prohibitive. The division was to 
rest for a vital role in the forthcoming 
First Army operation hopefully designed 
to end frontal attack. 

Hampered by similar conditions, the 
83d Division on the left in the meantime 
had been trying to advance south along 
the road that crosses the isthmus later- 
ally to the Taute River. The division 
was to secure the western bank of the 
river where a mile-long causeway trav- 
erses the Taute River flats; it also had 
to secure its original objective, Sainteny, 
which was now on its extreme right 
flank. 

The 83d Division's major problem at 
first centered around German tanks. 
Increasing numbers of them were be- 
coming apparent, not in concerted offen- 
sive action, but individually, backing up 
the defensive line. The 83d Division 

28 CI 30 (4th Div) ; 4th Div AAR, Jul. 



used tank, artillery, tank destroyer, and 
bazooka fire effectively to destroy them. 
Nevertheless, so many tanks were in 
evidence that subordinate commanders 
found it difficult to think beyond the 
necessity of eliminating them. Weakened 
by attrition and fatigue, the units failed 
to press toward their objectives even 
after eliminating the tanks that barred 
the way. 

Thinking in the broader terms of 
taking the main objectives, General 
Macon exercised close supervision. 
When the 330th Infantry failed to 
advance during the morning of g July, 
he could see no reason for it. 29 Just 
some tanks, the regimental commander 
explained, but he had a plan to eliminate 
them; just as soon as he accomplished 
this, his attack would get under way. 
General Macon suggested that with 
bazooka teams well forward and tanks 
in close support the regiment could 
attack and thereby accomplish both pur- 
poses, but the regimental commander 
insisted that he had to send out the 
bazookas before he moved his infantry 
forward. 

"If you just send a [small] party down 
there," General Macon warned, "you 
will be fooling around all day." 

"Yes, sir," the regimental commander 
agreed. But first he had to make cer- 
tain that the enemy tanks were de- 
stroyed. 

General Macon patiently explained 
that it was "awfully bad for the morale 
of the troops" to wait in place "hour 
after hour; you've got to keep moving," 
he insisted. 

When General Macon phoned three 



29 The following is taken from the telephone 
messages in the 83d Division G-2, G-3 Journal. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



131 



hours later, the regimental commander 
admitted that progress had been neg- 
ligible. Aware of how physically and 
mentally tired all the subordinate com- 
manders were, General Macon made his 
next move with reluctance. "I'll have 
to send someone down there to take 
over," he said. "We have got to take 
that objective." 

Ten minutes later General Feren- 
baugh, the assistant division comman- 
der, was on his way to assume temporary 
command of the regiment. That eve- 
ning General Macon relieved the regi- 
mental commander. 

The objective was the Taute River 
west bank, but the 330th failed to reach 
it on 9 July. The 331st, on the other 
hand, finally took Sainteny on that day, 
assisted by several fighter-bombers and 
by an adjacent unit of the 4th Division. 
In terms of real estate, the objective had 
little to offer, for it had been gutted by 
white phosphorus shells; it was neverthe- 
less an important milestone on the road 
to Periers. 

With the 4th Division assuming the 
task of driving toward Periers, the 83d 
Division turned its entire effort to reach- 
ing the west bank of the Taute. The 
immediate objective was the western 
point of the mile-long Tribehou cause- 
way across the Taute River flats. When 
reached, the causeway would provide a 
crossing site for part of the division, 
which was to join other units that were 
sweeping the east bank of the Taute. 
The remainder of the 83d Division was 
to clear the west bank of the Taute to 
another causeway and cross there to the 
east bank. 

Continuing toward the west bank of 
the Taute, the men found that enemy 



tanks and assault guns, often dug into 
the ground and employed as pillboxes, 
dominated the few trails in the area. 
Neither dive-bombing nor artillery and 
tank-destroyer fire appeared to have any 
effect on them. Although antiaircraft 
guns of 90-mm. caliber were brought 
forward, they too appeared powerless to 
dislodge or destroy them. 30 Only 
bazooka teams of infantrymen, approach- 
ing by stealth to close range before firing 
their rockets, were capable of taking out 
the tanks and assault guns. 

Prisoners, who said that cooks and 
bakers were acting as riflemen, gave the 
83d hope that the German defenses were 
cracking, but the enemy had some 
butchers too, and optimism vanished as 
the Germans continued to defend with 
the skill of trained infantrymen. Never- 
theless, at the end of 13 July, the 330th 
Infantry reached the west bank of the 
Taute near the causeway. To make 
the advance, the regiment had destroyed 
over twenty tanks in four days. On 14 
July the 330th Infantry crossed the 
Tribehou causeway and joined other 
units in sweeping the east bank of the 
Taute. The regiment was temporarily 
detached from 83d Division control. 

The remaining two regiments of the 
83d attacked to reach the other cause- 
way south of the Tribehou crossing site 
but made little progress. On 13 July 
several enemy tanks advanced boldly and 
sprayed a battalion position with ma- 
chine gun fire, causing the unit to with- 
draw from a hard-won objective. 
Cruising tank-infantry teams surrounded 
the 3d Battalion, 331st Infantry, that 
night and isolated 126 men for two days 
before adjacent units could come for- 

30 VII Corps Msg, 1020, 10 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl. 



m 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Shelled Church in Sainteny, World War I memorial in foreground. 



ward in relief. In vain the 83d Divi- 
sion strove to plow the few miles to the 
projected crossing site. 

During twelve days, the 83d Division 
had sustained a staggering total of 5,000 
casualties. Indeed, had it not been for 
progressive integration of replacements 
as the fighting developed, the division 
would have been little more than a 
skeleton. As it was, the units were far 
from first-rate fighting forces. The 
331st Infantry had five commanders in 
one week, and only when Col. Robert 
H. York arrived on 13 July to become 
the seventh commander did the regi- 
ment achieve a measure of stability. 



The attached tank battalion had lost 
half its tanks to enemy fire by to July. 31 
The failure of the 83d Division to 
make gains in mileage was not due to 
inherent deficiency. General Collins 
made a personal test on 1 1 July when he 
arrived at the division command post at 
a time when General Macon was visiting 
a subordinate unit. In an attempt to 
get the division moving, the corps com- 
mander issued specific attack instruc- 
tions and directed the subsequent attack, 
but he could not free the division from 

""331st Inf AAR, Jul; 746th Tk Bn Rpt. 10 Jul, 
83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl File. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



133 



the frustration of advancing, at most, at 
the rate of several hedgerows per day. 

At midnight on 15 July, the 4th and 
83d Divisions (the latter less the 330th 
Infantry) passed to control of the VIII 
Corps as part of a reorganization along 
the entire army front. The 83d began 
to relieve portions of the 4th Division. 
Several days later, the newly arrived 4th 
Armored Division completed the relief. 32 

Terrain and the enemy had brought 
the VII Corps to a halt on the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus by 15 July. "The Ger- 
mans are staying in there just by the guts 
of their soldiers," General Barton re- 
marked. "We outnumber them ten to 
one in infantry, fifty to one in artillery, 
and by an infinite number in the air." 33 
The VII Corps attack nevertheless had 
achieved several ends: by moving the 
front line a few miles farther from Car- 
entan, the corps had eliminated the 
nuisance shelling of the town and its 
vital highway bridge; it had prevented 
the Germans from launching a counter- 
attack in the sector considered the weak- 
est along the entire American front; and 
it had inflicted serious losses on the Ger- 
man forces. 34 

Counterattack 

While the Germans defended stub- 
bornly and adroitly in the zones of the 
VII and VIII Corps, they directed their 
greatest effort against the XIX Corps 
between the Taute and Vire Rivers. 
This was the sector where the 30th Divi- 
sion and Combat Command B of the 
3d Armored Division were attacking to- 
ward the high ground west of St. L6. 

32 VIII Coips G-3 Per Rpt 33, 18 Jul. 

33 CI 30 (4th Div) . 

34 See Brereton, Diaries, p. 307. 



If the U.S. troops reached their objec- 
tive, the Germans reasoned, they might 
unhinge the German line in the Coten- 
tin and outflank not only those units de- 
fending la Haye-du-Puits and Periers but 
also the // Parachute Corps in the St. 
L6-Caumont sector. To reinforce 
Kampfgruppe Heinz and the small por- 
tion of the 17 th SS Panzer Grenadier 
Division resisting between the Taute 
and the Vire, the // Parachute Corps 
sent part of its reserves, light forces 
organized around a mobile brigade, to 
close the gap opened by the American 
attack. But these troops were obviously 
too few to dissipate the danger of a se- 
rious breakthrough, and the 2d SS Panzer 
Division consequently added a tank- 
infantry task force, which attacked the 
American flank on 9 July. 35 

Deciding two days earlier that they 
needed a strong force between the Taute 
and the Vire, Kluge and Rommel 
obtained the Panzer Lehr Division from 
the Panzer Group West front in order to 
mount a major counterattack. 36 While 
the division traveled westward across the 
Normandy front toward the Taute and 
Vire region, the inexperience and errors 
of the U.S. units as much as firm resist- 
ance offered by the relatively small Ger- 
man combat groups— the armored task 
forces and the remnants of Kampfgruppe 
Heinz, reinforced by the parachute 
corps reserves— prevented a genuine 

35 MS # B-455 (Ziegelmann) ; Telecons, Pemsel 
and Meindl, 1800, 7 Jul, Hausser and Rommel, 
'935< 7 J u l> Criegern and Pemsel, 1945, 7 Jul, Sev- 
enth Army Tel Msgs; Pemsel and Meindl, 1910, 7 
Jul, AGp B KTB. 

38 Telecons, Rommel and Hausser, 1930, 7 Jul, 
unidentified, 2005, 7 Jul, Kluge and Rommel, 2020, 
7 Jul, and Pemsel and Speidel, 2350, 8 Jul, AGp B 
KTB; OB WEST KTB, 7 and 8 Jul. 



J 34 

American breakthrough. 37 The arrival 
of advance elements of Panzer Lehr on 
10 July was to seal off the penetration, 
while the projected Panzer Lehr counter- 
attack threatened to reverse the situa- 
tion completely and throw the Amer- 
icans on the defensive. 

General Corlett on 8 July had sent 
Combat Command A of the 3d Armored 
Division across the Vire to reinforce the 
113th Cavalry Group on the right flank. 
Adding further to the strength of the 
already considerable force in the XIX 
Corps bridgehead, and arriving acci- 
dentally in time to meet the attack of 
Panzer Lehr, came the 9th Division, the 
unit that General Collins had been un- 
able to employ with the rest of his VII 
Corps on the Carentan-Periers isthmus. 

Upon General Hodges' suggestion, 
General Collins persuaded General 
Bradley on 8 July that committing the 
unemployed 9th Division along the east 
bank of the Taute River would fulfill 
two useful functions. By outflanking 
the German resistance on the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus, the division would help 
the VII Corps and provide strong protec- 
tion to the XIX Corps right flank. 
Bradley decided that the 9th Division's 
attack would be related more properly 
to the VII Corps action than to the XIX 
Corps advance toward St. L6, so he let 
Collins retain control of the division. 
Moving the VII Corps boundary to the 
east and giving Collins a slice of the XIX 
Corps zone, General Bradley split the 
Taute and Vire area between the VII 
and XIX Corps, the new boundary to be 
effective as soon as the 9th Division 
crossed the Vire et Taute Canal and was 



37 Hodgson, R-54, contains a detailed account of 
the German resistance. 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 

ready to attack. General Collins 
ordered the division to attack westward— 
between the canal on the north and the 
St. Jean-de-Daye-le Desert road on the 
south— toward the Taute River. After 
making contact with the 83d Division, 
the 9th was to turn south to cut the 
Periers-St. L6 highway. 38 

The 9th Division was thoroughly bat- 
tle trained. It had participated in the 
North African invasion and the Sicilian 
campaign and in June had played a 
prominent part in the capture of Cher- 
bourg. General Eisenhower considered 
it one of the two he rated "tops" in the 
European theater. 39 The division com- 
mander, Maj Gen. Manton S. Eddy, had 
organized his headquarters in a fashion 
that resembled German practice. So 
that he might be free to visit the line 
units, Eddy kept the assistant division 
commander at the command post to 
make emergency decisions and to super- 
vise the "operational group"— the G-2 
and G-3 Sections— while the chief of staff 
supervised the "administrative group"— 
the G-i and G-4 Sections. 40 The divi- 
sion had considerable potential fire 
power and mobility. In addition to 
controlling two extra battalions of artil- 
lery, one light and one medium, the 9th 
Division assumed control of Combat 
Command A of the 3d Amored Division 
and also of the 1 1 3th Cavalry Group. 
To keep the mobile armor and cavalry 
available for emergency use, General 
Eddy planned to hold them in reserve. 
At first he would employ his three in- 



88 FUSA Opns Instrs, 8 Jul; VII Corps FO 5, 9 
Jul; Ltr, Corlett to OCMH, 19 Jan 54; Sylvan Diary, 
8 Jul. 

89 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue Files. 
40 12th AGp Immed Rpt 23, 9 Aug. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



135 



fantry regiments abreast, attacking west- 
ward toward the Taute. 

The 9th Division crossed the Vire et 
Taute Canal on 9 July and was ready 
on the following morning to meet again 
the challenge of fighting in the hedge- 
rows. A preparation by dive-bombers 
and artillery preceded the attack. Two 
regiments met opposition immediately 
and to their consternation advanced but 
several hedgerows. The third regiment 
had better success clearing the corner 
formed by the juncture of the Taute 
River and the Vire et Taute Canal. 
Resistance was light and enemy artillery 
conspicuous by its silence. A recon- 
naissance patrol, however, moving to- 
ward Tribehou Island in the Taute 
River flats, was turned back by mortar 
and machine gun fire. 

That night, as the 9th Division re- 
organized for attack on the morning of 
1 1 July, enemy fire increased and small 
groups of tanks and infantry attempted 
to infiltrate the lines. German tank 
motors sounded in the distance. From 
just beyond the division positions came 
the noise of infantrymen digging in. 
The 9th Division staff officers depreciated 
these signs, for they believed that the 
Germans were merely covering prepara- 
tions for a general withdrawal during 
the night. Although the 30th Divi- 
sion on the left reported heavy enemy 
traffic moving toward the Taute River, 
the 9th Division staff preferred to accept 
as more valid an announcement from 
the 4th Division that the enemy was fall- 
ing back. This judgment coincided 
with the view held at First Army head- 
quarters. The army G-2 had inter- 
preted the noisy march across the Amer- 
ican front by Panzer Lehr, which had 



repeatedly broken radio silence en route, 
as a demonstration of German bluff, an 
action presaging in reality a general 
withdrawal. 41 

The Germans were not bluffing. 
Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, the 
commander of Panzer Lehr, had received 
his march order on 8 July and had moved 
at once, though poor roads and strafing 
by Allied planes had hampered the divi- 
sion march. Not until the night of 10 
July was the division in position to 
attack— too late, Rommel thought. 
Kampfgruppe Heinz, which had suffered 
approximately 30 percent casualties and 
had virtually disintegrated as an organ- 
ized unit, was withdrawn to the south- 
west as artillery of the ijth SS Panzer 
Grenadiers gave covering fire and the 
30th Mobile Brigade and the tank- 
infantry teams of the 2d SS Panzer Divi- 
sion launched local counterattacks. 
Hausser, the Seventh Army commander, 
attached these elements to Panzer Lehr, 
visited the division command post, and 
talked over the details of the attack with 
Bayerlein. With Rommel pushing for 
speed, Panzer Lehr was to attack at 



once— that night. (Map j) 

Bayerlein planned to attack with two 
regimental combat teams abreast. The 
regiments were to converge on the St. 
Jean-de-Daye crossroads from the south- 
west and the south. With the high 
ground at the crossroads in his posses- 
sion, he would have command of the 
American crossing sites over the canal 
and the river, north and east of St. Jean- 
de-Daye. Hoping that the night attack 
would easily achieve a breakthrough, 



41 gth Div G-3 Jnl, 0005, 0040, 11 Jul, and AAR, 
Jul; FUSA G-3 Jnl, 0600, 1 1 Jul, and G-2 Per Rpt 
31, 11 Jul. 




MAP 7 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



137 



Bayerlein envisioned the infantry riding 
tanks to the objective. The // Para- 
chute Corps was to launch a feint directly 
north from St. L6 in a limited objective 
attack along the east bank of the Vire 
River. 42 

The jump-off was scheduled for 0145, 
1 1 July. Unfortunately for Panzer 
Lehr, Combat Command B of the 3d 
Armored Division in driving toward 
Hauts-Vents had jostled and delayed the 
leading panzer elements getting ready to 
attack. Still in firm possession of Hauts- 
Vents, Panzer Lehr jumped off just be- 
fore dawn, 1 1 July, after a short artillery 
preparation. The routes of attack 
passed on both sides of CCB. The regi- 
ment on the right, moving close to the 
Vire River through Pont-Hebert, aimed 
for the Airel bridge and struck the 30th 
Division. The regiment on the left, 
moving through le Desert, struck the 
30th and gth Divisions. 43 

In the gth Division sector, the divi- 
sion staff still was not seriously perturbed 
even after receiving reports at 0300 of 
German infiltration along the left flank. 
Two hours later the fact that Germans 
were making noise, were firing a great 
deal, and appeared "to be all around 
now" occasioned little more than non- 
chalance mixed with some incredulity. 
Not until the division artillery reported 
some confusion because German infan- 
trymen were approaching the gun posi- 
tions did the staff realize that a counter- 
attack was under way. About the same 
time an infantry battalion command post 
was overrun. As reports began to in- 



42 Pz Lehr FO, 10 Jul, in Pz Lehr Div lb KTB; 
Seventh Army KTB, 10 Jul; 3d Armd Div CCB 
G-2 Daily Narrative, 7-16 Jul. 

43 See below, Chapter VIII, for the // Parachute 
Corps feint down the east bank of the Vire River. 



dicate that enemy tanks were throughout 
the division area, telephone lines from 
all the regiments went out. Still the 
situation did not seem serious enough to 
wake the division commander. 44 

Panzer Lehr's leading elements on the 
left— two battalions of armored infantry, 
a company of tanks, and two companies 
of self-propelled guns— had actually 
made two shallow penetrations of the 
U.S. lines near le Desert, one along a 
regimental boundary of the gth Division, 
the other between the gth and 30th 
Divisions. The penetrations prompted 
confusion and some withdrawal be- 
fore subordinate American commanders 
could begin to control their troops in 
close-range fighting. 

After daylight brought some ameliora- 
tion of the confusion, and after wiremen 
by ogoo had restored communications to 
the regiments, General Eddy got a co- 
ordinated defense into action. Infan- 
trymen cut behind German spearheads 
to seal routes of withdrawal, while tanks, 
tank destroyers, and infantry bazooka 
teams stalked the isolated enemy 
armor. 45 Tank destroyers alone claimed 
destruction of at least one Mark IV and 
twelve Mark V (Panther) tanks. The 
division artillery pounded enemy tanks 
parked along the road west of le Desert. 
American planes flying other missions 

44 9th Div G-3 Jnl, 0305, 0515, 0525, 11 Jul. 

46 Capt. James D. Allgood and 1st Lt. William F. 
Squire of the 47th Infantry received the DSC for 
their efforts in repelling the counterattack. T/3 
Henry J. Kucharski of the Medical Detachment, 
47th Infantry, when unable to render aid because 
of fire, ripped off his Red Cross armband and 
waved it in front of him as he advanced toward 
wounded men. The enemy recognized his mission 
and halted fire. When a German officer ap- 
proached, Kucharski sued for and secured a thirty- 
minute truce, time for him to treat and evacuate 
American casualties. He received the DSC. 



138 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



were diverted to counter the Panzer Lehr 
threat, and one formation dropped 
twenty-two 500-pound bombs on a Ger- 
man armored column. 

By the middle of the afternoon of 11 
July, the gth Division had contained 
the enemy attack. General Eddy was 
then able to launch his own counter- 
attack and regain ground abandoned 
earlier in the day. Because of the pos- 
sibility of further enemy armored action, 
Eddy established a strong defensive line, 
giving particular attention to antitank 
precautions. The 9th Division had 
sustained little more than a hundred 
casualties. The only effect of the Pan- 
zer Lehr effort was to delay the 9th 
Division attack twenty-four hours. 

Along the boundary between the 9th 
and 30th Divisions, confusion had at 
first also prevailed among men of the 
30th. At a roadblock on a secondary 
route, guards heard tanks approaching, 
but were told by higher headquarters 
that American tanks were in the vicinity. 
The men let a column of tanks and 
infantry pass before noticing that the 
soldiers in the column were speaking 
German. They immediately alerted 
troops in the rear who engaged the 
column with antitank rifles and ba- 
zookas. Individual groups of infantry- 
men spontaneously and with little co- 
ordination or direction destroyed five 
enemy tanks and four armored scout 
cars, two of the latter mounting flame 
throwers. Machine guns emplaced ear- 
lier that evening for all-around security 
fired into the ranks of enemy infantry. 
As the night exploded into sound and 
flash, the noise of withdrawing tanks 
gradually became discernible. In the 
morning it was obvious that the point 



of the enemy armored column had been 
blunted and the main body forced to 
withdraw. 

At the same time, units of the 30th 
Division near the west bank of the Vire 
River were repelling the other regi- 
mental column of Panzer Lehr. Before 
noon of 1 1 July, U.S. troops had con- 
tained the enemy attack in that area and 
had cleared German stragglers from 
the division rear. 46 Though General 
Hobbs launched his own attack, it ran 
into resistance at once and made only 
slight gain. 

The effect of the Panzer Lehr attack 
was not confined to the front line. At 
the still inadequate crossing sites over 
the Vire, military policemen had been 
driven from their traffic control posts by 
the increased enemy shelling. Traffic 
quickly coagulated. To relieve the 
congestion and reduce the possibility of 
embarrassment if a direct shell hit de- 
stroyed a bridge, a Bailey bridge was 
erected and completed late on 12 July; 
it took somewhat longer than normal 
because of continuing German fire. 47 

The 30th Division estimated that, with 
CCB, it had destroyed about 20 Mark 
IV tanks on 11 July. General Collins 
judged that the VII Corps had destroyed 
over 30 German tanks, most of them in 
the 9th Division sector. Three tactical 
air squadrons, which had bombed Ger- 

48 2d Lt. Richard A. Kirsting of the 246th En- 
gineer Combat Battalion was awarded the DSC for 
heroic action that resulted in the capture of forty 
Germans. 

47 As army engineers manipulated the Carentan 
locks on 14 July in an attempt to drain the flooded 
areas of the Cotentin, the Vire River water level 
descended so rapidly that it endangered the tem- 
porary bridge and made additional trestling neces- 
sary. XIX Corps Engr Sec Jnl and Sitreps, XIX 
Corps AAR, Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



139 




German Panthers knocked out near le Desert, u July. 



man armored columns, claimed 19 tanks 
destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, and 7 
damaged; 2 half-tracks destroyed and 6 
damaged. 48 Perhaps more important, 
at the height of the counterattack, CCB 
of the 3d Armored Division had been 
attacking Hauts-Vents and HiU 91, 
objectives the unit secured at 1730, 11 
July. Without this commanding ter- 
rain, Panzer Lehr was in the situation of 
having had the prop knocked out from 
under its effort; an immediate resump- 
tion of the counterattack was out of the 
question. 

The effect of the American action was 
considerable. Panzer Lehr had lost a 
quarter of its effective combat strength. 
One task force had started out with 6 
infantry officers, 40 noncommissioned 
officers, and 198 enlisted men (with 36 
light machine guns, 5 heavy machine 



guns, and 10 bazookas), plus a company 
of tanks {10); only 7 noncommissioned 
officers and 23 men had returned with 
their individual small arms and 6 light 
machine guns. The Panzer Lehr coun- 
terattack had been a dismal and costly 
failure. 49 

Prompt American reaction was only 
part of the story. More important was 
the presence of the 9th Division, which 
the Germans had not known was there. 
Hastily executing an attack that had 
come too late, Bayerlein had tried a 
blitzkrieg in the hedgerows against a 
numerically superior American force. 
He had also courted defeat in detail by 
committing his two assault columns 
along routes that turned out to be too 
far apart for mutual support. 

Judging the attack to have been an 
attempt to cut through to Isigny and 



1S V1I Corps Msgs, 1100, isgo, 1505, 2300, 11 Jul, 
FUSA G-g Jnl File; 3d Armd Div CCB G-i Daily 
Narrative, 7-16 Jul. 



"Tekon, Pemsel to Tetnpelhoff, 1000, 15 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Msgs; Rommel to Kluge, 15 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 646. 



140 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



divide the Allied beachhead, the Amer- 
icans disparaged the German plan as 
carelessly conceived, hastily organized, 
and imperfectly directed. This ap- 
praisal overestimated the importance of 
the effort. As far back as 13 June, when 
German troops had failed to retake 
Carentan, tactical commanders had 
abandoned all hope of regaining Isigny 
and the coast in that sector, even though 
as late as 24 June Hitler talked about 
the possibility of recovering Carentan. 
From the Panzer Lehr attack the Ger- 
mans had expected little more than 
limited success, but even that came to 
naught. By 12 July Panzer Lehr was 
entirely committed in passive defense. 
Its only accomplishment was having 
"stopped the American drive to St. 
Gilles," the high ground west of St. L6. 
Bayerlein congratulated his troops for 
that. 50 

If Panzer Lehr had not succeeded in 
eliminating the U.S. positions south of 
the Vire et Taute Canal, it was at least 
in position to block American attempts 
to continue quickly to the south. Nor 
was it by this time alone. The original 
decision to move Panzer Lehr from the 
Panzer Group West front had been made 
at least partially because units outside 
Normandy that were to reinforce the 
front still had not arrived. OB WEST 
had wanted to move the 5th Parachute 
Division from Brittany to Normandy but 
needed Hitler's permission to do so. 
Hitler delayed because the division had 
been rated in June as suitable only for 
defensive missions. As various echelons 
discussed the question of whether the 



50 90th Div G-3 Jnl File, n and 12 Jul, and AAR, 
Jul; [Garth], St.-Ld, pp. 36-42; Hodgson, R-54; 
Pz Lehr FO, 11 Jul, Pz Lehr Div lb KTB. 



parachutists' training was sufficiently 
advanced for the unit to be committed 
in Normandy, the troops of the division 
sat idle along the roads in Brittany. 
After much lobbying of OKW by OB 
WEST staff members, Kluge on 7 July, 
finally wheedled Hitler's reluctant con- 
sent and ordered the paratroopers to 
march on foot to Normandy. Young 
troops under inexperienced commanders, 
they moved into the Taute and 
Vire area behind Panzer Lehr during 
the night of 1 1 July. Behind them 
came the additional forces of the 275 th 
Infantry Division. 5 * Bolstering the 
Panzer Lehr defenses, they were in posi- 
tion to hamper the gth and 30th Divi- 
sion efforts to move south to the Periers- 
St. L6 highway. 

Although General Bradley felt that his 
troops had "pretty well chewed up the 
Panzer Lehr," that the Germans were 
"on their last legs," and that the Amer- 
ican offensive "should open up," sub- 
ordinate commanders were of the opin- 
ion that the Panzer Lehr soldiers were 
"great big, husky boys, and arrogant . . . 
not beaten at all." 52 

Toward the Periers-St. L6 Road 

Although the ground between the 
Taute and Vire Rivers was intrinsically 
suitable for the application of a unified 
command, General Bradley had split the 



n Seventh Army KTB, 12 Jul; OB WEST KTB, 
6 Jul; Telecons, 1030, 5 Jul, AGp B KTB; Msg, 
1900, 5 Jul, AGp B Op. Befehle; Telecons, Helm- 
dach and Tempelhoff, 1000, 6 Jul, Zimmerman 
and Tempelhoff, 2345, 6 Jul, AGp B KTB; Tele- 
cons, Tempelhoff and Helmdach, 0015, 7 Jul, Pem- 
sel and Zoeller, 0630, 7 Jul, Hausser and Rommel, 
2245, n Jul, Seventh Army Tel Msgs. 

02 Telecons, Corlett and Hobbs, 1422, 1507, 1614, 
11 Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



141 



region in two. The gth Division on the 
right (west) thus could operate with the 
VII Corps and toward the objectives of 
that corps. The 30th Division on th< 
left (east) carried the XIX Corps attack 
toward the high ground west of St. L6. 

On 10 July, when the 9th Division first 
had been committed between the Taute 
and the Vire, General Eddy was sup- 
posed to have secured the east bank of 
the Taute River before turning south to 
cut the Periers-St. L6 highway. To 
secure the river bank, he had attacked 
westward toward four specific objectives 
adjoining the stream: the corner formed 
by the juncture of the Taute River and 
the Vire et Taute Canal; the island of 
Tribehou, a hedgerowed mound of 
earth the possession of which would en- 
able the 83d Division to make an admin- 
istrative rather than an assault crossing 
of the Taute; the Bois du Hommet, a 
scrub forest that the Germans were using 
as an assembly area for troops and sup- 
plies; and the peninsula of Vincenterie. 
With these objectives cleared and a por- 
tion of the 83d Division across the Taute 
and operating on the 9th Division's 
right flank, General Eddy could then 
turn south to cut the east— west highway 



between Periers and St. L6. (See Maps 5 



and II. ) 



General Eddy had secured only one of 
his objectives, the corner formed by the 
river and the canal, when the Panzer 
Lehr attack disrupted his plans. To 
forestall a recurrence, Eddy oriented the 
47th Infantry (Col. George W. Smythe) 
toward the south so as to be ready to 
swing west to outflank and isolate the 
spearhead of any counterattack. The 
39th Infantry (Col. Harry A. Flint) was 
to drive along the axis of the highway 



west of le Desert against what appeared 
to be the main German defenses. The 
60th Infantry (Col. Jesse L. Gibney) 
was to secure the three remaining objec- 
tives that adjoined the east bank of the 
Taute. 

Attacking on 12 July, the 60th Infan- 
try met little opposition. While the 
24 th Reconnaissance Squadron of Colo- 
nel Biddle's 113th Cavalry Group 
blocked Tribehou on the northeast, the 
60th bypassed it. Patrols found the 
northern portion of the Bois du Hommet 
unoccupied, and after an artillery prepa- 
ration fired by eight battalions, the regi- 
ment moved through the forest in force 
against light resistance. Another artil- 
lery preparation that evening preceded 
an infantry move into Vincenterie, which 
was occupied by midnight. The recon- 
naissance squadron cleared Tribehou of 
weak forces on the following day, 13 

July. 

The 60th Infantry's quick success 
found no counterpart in the other regi- 
mental sectors. Battling west and south 
of le Desert, the 39th and 47th Regi- 
ments met an obdurate enemy. The 
Germans had shifted their forces to 
strengthen their positions near le 
Desert, and they were aggressive. Small 
tank-infantry combat teams provided a 
roving defense employing tactics of sur- 
prise. 53 As the 39th Infantry fought 
from hedgerow to hedgerow astride the 
le Desert road, a small German force, 
with mortars and self-propelled guns, 
worked around the flank of a rifle com- 
pany late in the afternoon of 12 July. 
Sudden German fire inflicted heavy 
casualties, including all the company 



53 Panzer Lehr FO, 1 1 Jul, Panzer Lehr Div lb 
KTB; Seventh Army KTB (Draft), 11-13 Jul. 



142 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



officers. As the American riflemen be- 
gan to fall back in confusion, a tank de- 
stroyer officer, ist Lt. Jack G. Hubbard, 
who was nearby, quickly assumed com- 
mand and held the men in place until 
another infantry company came forward 
and dispersed the Germans. 54 Rain on 

13 July nullified air support, and the 
two regiments again registered incon- 
clusive gains. 

When the 330th Infantry of the 83d 
Division crossed the Tribehou causeway 
over the Taute River to Vincenterie and 
was attached to the gth Division at noon, 

14 July, General Eddy set his sights on 
the Periers-St. L6 highway. He lined 
the four infantry regiments abreast 
along an east— west line between Vincen- 
terie and le Desert with the intention 
of driving quickly across the four miles 
to the objective. As the attack began, 
the major problems became evident: an 
excessively broad front, terrain that 
canalized offensive action, an infinite 
number of hedgerows, and an enemy 
who infiltrated in stubborn groups. 
All three battalions of the 60th Infantry 
fought through the night of 14 July 
against enemy troops that cut wire com- 
munications between the battalions and 
the regimental headquarters. A Ger- 
man company with captured Sherman 
tanks boldly approached a 47th Infantry 
roadblock and shot up the outpost. 
Mines, earth and log obstructions, 
wrecked vehicles, and debris impeded 
the division attack. The Germans 
blew craters in roadbeds and felled trees 
across the narrow country lanes. While 
the engineers devoted the bulk of their 
efforts to keeping the channels of com- 
munication and advance open, opera- 

54 899th TD Bn Opn Rpt, Jan-Dec 44. 



tions became "a succession of difficult 
frontal attacks from hedgerow to hedge- 
row." By the end of 15 July, after six 
days of combat, even the seasoned and 
battle-trained 9th Division had advanced 
scarcely six miles. 55 

The situation was somewhat similar 
for the 30th Division. While the infan- 
try had met the Panzer Lehr attack, the 
attached CCB had secured Hill 91 at 
Hauts-Vents and organized defensive 
positions about a thousand yards to the 
south. CCB was to have been released 
from attachment after capturing Hauts- 
Vents, but for four days the armor held 
the most advanced point of the 30th 
Division line, sitting "on a hot spot" 
and receiving artillery fire from front 
and flanks, plus occasional strafing and 
bombing from American planes. For- 
merly anxious to be rid of the combat 
command, General Hobbs now argued 
to keep it because, as he said, he feared 
the armor in pulling out might "mix 
up the roads" and because his own 
attached tank battalion was a 60 percent 
loss. 66 The simple truth was that Gen- 
eral Hobbs needed the combat com- 
mand to insure retention of Hauts- 
Vents. 

By the end of 11 July, its fifth day of 
battle, the 30th Division had sustained 
1,300 casualties, and the men who re- 
mained were "dead on their feet." 
Tankers who fought all day long and 
serviced their vehicles a good part of the 
night frequently reported, "Tanks need 
maintenance, men need rest." Four 



65 9th Div G-3 Jnl, 0415, 15 Jul, and AAR, Jul; 
15th Engr C Bn Opns Rpts 25 and 26, 14 and 15 
Jul; VII Corps AAR, Jul. 

66 Hobbs Telecons, 1657 and 1853, 15 Jul, Col- 
lins and Hobbs, 1250, 16 Jul, 30th Div G—3 Jnl 
and File; see 30th Div G—3 Jnl, 13 Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



143 



days later, after fighting to come abreast 
of the combat command, the 30th Divi- 
sion had taken even heavier losses, 
almost another 2,ooo. 67 

In coming virtually abreast of the 
combat command at Hauts- Vents by 14 
July, the 30th Division was in advance 
of units on its flanks and found itself 
compressed into a narrow zone. Hauts- 
Vents is at the northern tip of a narrow 
ridge leading directly to the P^riers-St. 
L6 highway. Scarcely two miles wide 
and rising between the Vire River on 
the east and the Terrette River on the 
west, this ground sharply defined the 
30th Division's zone of advance. The 
division positions represented a kind of 
peninsula in an enemy sea that had to 
be defended as much on the flanks as at 
the tip. Because the narrow ridge de- 
nied maneuver room, the troops had no 
choice but to operate on the exposed 
eastern and western slopes. The men 
on the faces of the ridges presented good 
targets to German enfilading fire from 
the flanks. German artillery pieces em- 
placed across the Vire River in defense 
of St. L6 inflicted 90 percent of the 
casualties incurred by the 119th Infan- 
try on the division left flank. For effec- 
tive counterbattery fire, the 30th Divi- 
sion on at least one occasion directed 
missions fired by U.S. artillery battal- 
ions east of the Vire. The division 
suddenly became highly conscious of the 
importance of camouflage, though meas- 



51 Telecon, Corlett and Hobbs, 1507, 11 Jul; 3d 
Armd Div CCB S-3 Rpt 1, 11 Jul; 743d Tk Bn 
Unit Rpts 7 and 8, 10 and 11 Jul. All in 30th Div 
G-3 Jnl and File. FUSA Daily Estimated Loss 
Rpt, Jul. Capt. John S. Milligan, Jr., of the 
197th Field Artillery Battalion was awarded the 
DSC. 



ures undertaken seemed to improve the 
situation but little. 58 

Although the Vire River was an effec- 
tive barrier to enemy infiltration on the 
left flank, the Terrette was not large 
enough to deny movement. The pri- 
mary requirement on the right thus was 
a closely tied-in series of defensive 
strongpoints. Compressed into a nar- 
row zone, the 30th Division could do 
little but hold doggedly to its positions, 
concentrate on preserving its defensive 
integrity, hope fervently that the ad- 
jacent units would soon come abreast, 
and advance whenever possible in the 
slow, tedious process of moving fron- 
tally from one hedgerow to the next. 

On 14 July, in conjunction with an 
attack launched on the east bank of 
the Vire River, the 30th Division, 
after several days of effort, finally se- 
cured the bridge at Pont-Hebert. 
Possession of the bridge plus the pres- 
ence of the combat command at Hauts- 
Vents constituted a threat to St. L6 
from the west. Although the Germans 
defending St. L6 were by this time fight- 
ing off an attack by the XIX Corps di- 
rectly toward the city, they were suffi- 
ciently concerned with the indirect 
threat to increase their artillery fire 
against the 30th Division. They became 
very much aware of the fact that con- 
tinued American progress in the Taute 
and Vire sector would outflank the entire 
LXXXIV Corps.™ 

Delayed by both the Panzer Lehr 
counterattack and a combination of ene- 
my and terrain, the 9th and 30th Di- 
visions still were short of fulfilling their 



68 35th Div Arty Unit Rpt 4, 35th Div Arty AAR, 
Jul; 30th Div G—3 Jnl and File, 11-14 Jul. 
e "Est of Situation, 12 Jul, Seventh Army KTB. 



144 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



missions when a new factor emerged to 
modify General Bradley's earlier split of 
the Taute and Vire River area. As his 
new plan to get out of the Cotentin ap- 
proached maturity, the ground near the 
Periers-St. L6 highway became a vital 
necessity. To make possible a joint ef- 
fort by the gth and 30th Divisions toward 
the new objective— the Periers— St. L6 
highway— General Bradley shifted the 
corps boundaries again. At midnight 
on 15 July, General Collins' VII Corps 
relinquished the Carentan-Periers isth- 
mus to the VIII Corps and assumed con- 
trol of the area between the Taute and 
the Vire. 

When General Collins surveyed his 
new VII Corps sector on 16 July, he saw 
a discouraging prospect. The divisions, 
although excellent, battle-proved units, 
were making no more than painfully 
slow progress toward the Periers-St. L6 
highway. On the right, sudden and re- 
peated incursions by small groups of 
enemy troops on the flanks and in the 
rear of the gth Division were disturbing. 
On the left, the 30th Division's advance 
along a narrow ridge line with its flanks 
exposed to fire and infiltration looked 
less than comforting. Although both 
divisions had combat commands of ar- 
mor attached and could have used them, 
developing plans for the new First Army 
attack required that the combat com- 
mands be withdrawn and reunited un- 
der parental control. General Collins 
detached the armor on 16 July, though 
he retained two tank companies with 
the 30th Division and three with the 
9th. 60 

The attack then continued as before. 
Believing that the gth Division had made 

60 gth and 30th Div AAR's, Jul. 



a minor breakthrough on 16 July, Gen- 
eral Eddy optimistically hoped to be 
astride the objective by dusk that day. 61 
The hope was premature. The soft 
terrain of the Terrette River valley and 
the ubiquitous hedgerows virtually stul- 
tified maneuver. The 30th Division 
was reluctant to abandon the high 
ground of its ridge sector to clear the 
valley of the Terrette, while the gth Di- 
vision was occupied all along its front 
and unable for a time to make a special 
effort on its left flank. 

Not until 17 July, when the 330th In- 
fantry finally gained positions close to 
the Periers-St. L6 road and thereby in- 
sured the gth Division a secure right 
flank, could General Eddy begin a sys- 
tematic sweep of the river valley. While 
the 330th Infantry reverted to its parent 
83d Division, the organic regiments of 
the gth Division took up the new assign- 
ment. At the same time, the 30th Di- 
vision captured two small bridges and 
eliminated the possibility of enemy infil- 
tration on the division's right flank. 

Four days after the VII Corps assumed 
control of the sector, the gth and 30th 
Divisions reached ground that over- 
looked the Periers— St. L6 highway be- 
tween the Taute River and the Vire. 
The Germans continued to deny the 
road itself. Although "resistance re- 
mained undiminished," the VII Corps 
attack ceased. 62 The troops held a line 
adequate, General Bradley believed, for 
initiating the new First Army operation. 

In moving eight miles from the Vire 
et Taute Canal to the Periers— St. L6 
highway, the 30th Division between 7 



el FUSA Msg, 2015, 16 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl 
and File. 

92 gth Div AAR, Jul. 



THE OFFENSIVE CONTINUED 



145 



and 20 July lost over 3,000 men; the gth 
Division between 10 and 20 July sus- 
tained about 2,500 casualties. 83 Al- 
though the divisions were several hun- 
dred yards short of the highway, they 



63 FUSA Daily Estimated Loss Rpts, Jul; 30th Div 
G-3 J nl - !935. 15 Jul. 2335. 17 J ul ! Telecon, Col- 
lins and Hobbs, 1600, 17 Jul, 30th Div G—3 Jnl 
and File. 



dominated the road by fire. The VII 
Corps was abreast of the positions at- 
tained several days earlier by the VIII 
Corps, which dominated the same high- 
way between Lessay and Periers. 

In the meantime, the First Army of- 
fensive had again been broadened, this 
time by an attack east of the Vire River, 
where the XIX Corps was trying to take 
St. L6. 



CHAPTER VIII 

The Battle for St. L6 



The Objective 

Before the summer of 1944 the pro- 
vincial city of St. L6— primarily a market 
town but also a political and administra- 
tive capital— enjoyed a prosperity com- 
mon to most agricultural centers and 
reflected a touch of more than rural 
elegance imparted by the society of offi- 
cialdom. By the middle of June 1944 
this once "charming and serene little 
city" had become "no more than a heap 
of smoking rubble." On the day the 
Allies invaded the Continent, 6 June, 
Allied planes had bombed the power 
plant and railroad station and then made 
concentrated and repeated attacks that 
seemed to the inhabitants to have been 
motivated by the sole ifitention of de- 
stroying the city. Almost 800 civilians 
lay dead under the ruins by the morn- 
ing of 7 June, and Allied bombers re- 
turned every day for a week to increase 
the devastation. 1 

Although German propaganda point- 
ed to St. L6 as an example of how the 
Allies were liberating France, the in- 
habitants apparently harbored less re- 
sentment than the Allies had expected. 
The French exhibited a "pathetic eager- 
ness" to understand why the Allies had 

1 Robert Patry, St.-Ld, pp. 15-16 (English trans- 
lation) ; see also J. de Saint-Jorre, "Saint-L6 sous 
les Bombes," and A. Legoy, "Exode de Saint-L6," 
in Herval, Bataille de Normandie, I, 85-101, 102- 
04. 



selected St. L6 as an air force target long 
before the ground troops were near the 
town. There were several reasons: hope 
of hindering German troop movements 
by making a roadblock of the town it- 
self, "a choke-point"; desire to destroy 
the LXXXIV Corps headquarters, lo- 
cated in a suburb until 16 June; and 
plans to take St. L6 nine days after the 
invasion. 2 

The Americans' unsuccessful efforts 
to capture St. L6 in June only stimulated 
desire for it. Although destroyed, the 
city at the beginning of July remained 
a place of vital interest both to the 
Americans who had helped demolish it 
and to the Germans who still held it. 
St. L6 had prestige value, and its con- 
tinued retention by the Germans or its 
seizure by the Americans would have a 
strong effect on the morale of the op- 
posing forces. The capital of the De- 



2 XIX Corps AAR, Jul; FUSA Psychological War- 
fare Div Ltr, Bombing of St. L6, 4 Jul, FUSA G-3 
Jnl; Rpt of the Supreme Commander, p. 7; Sev- 
enth Army KTB, Anlagen, Lagenkarten, 6.VI.-30. 
VI. 44. Cities bombed on 6 and 7 June to produce 
"choke-points" were Caen, Villers-Bocage, St. L6, 
Pontaubault, Coutances, Thury-Harcourt, Lisieux, 
Falaise, Vire, and Argentan. General Omar N. 
Bradley and Air Effects Committee, 12th Army 
Group, Effect of Air Power on Military Operations 
in Western Europe (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1945) 
(hereafter cited as Bradley, Effect of Air Power), 
p. 28; Sunday Punch in Normandy: the Tactical 
Use of Heavy Bombardment in the Normandy In- 
vasion, Wings at War Series, No. 2 (Washington, 
1945) . P- 19- 



148 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



partment of the Manche, St. L6 was po- 
litically and psychologically important 
to the French. A Norman road center 
rivaling Caen, St. L6 would give the 
Allies additional lateral communications 
and routes to the south. The Ameri- 
cans felt that their possession of St. L6 
would correspondingly deny the Ger- 
mans the ability to move troops and 
supplies easily from one side of the Vire 
River to the other immediately behind 
the front. 

By mid-July, the prestige factor and 
the value of the city as an access point 
to roads leading south gave way to a 
more important reason. Because of its 
location at the apex of the Coutances- 
St. L6-Lessay road triangle, the city was 
specifically important to General Brad- 
ley's emerging plan for achieving more 
rapid advance in the Cotentin. A prem- 
ise of the new plan was American pos- 
session of St. L6, a need that by mid-July 
imparted a sense of urgency to the battle 
for the city. 3 

The Germans had anchored their 
positions on the hills north and north- 
east of St. L6, advantageous terrain for 
defense. At first they fought not so 
much to hold St. L6 as to maintain their 
line. The city was useless to them for 
lateral communications because it was 
within range of U.S. artillery, and their 
troop and supply movements were tak- 
ing place far to the south. But in July, 
just before the Americans opened their 
attack toward the city, the Germans cap- 
tured an American field order. With 
St. L6 revealed as a major U.S. objective, 
the Germans reappraised its worth and 



8 Answers by Gens Smith and Bull to questions, 
14-15 Sep 45. 



determined to challenge the effort to the 
extent of their strength. 4 

German strength appeared adequate. 
St. L6 was the responsibility of the // 
Parachute Corps, which held the sector 
between the Vire and the Drome Rivers. 
On the left (west) were three kampf- 
gruppen— one each from the 353 d, the 
266th, and the jjsd Divisions— under 
the operational control of the 3}2d 
headquarters. On the right was the 3d 
Parachute Division. In support was the 
1 2th Assault Gun Brigade. Although 
the troops in the line were spread thin 
across a wide front, they were veterans. 
The corps commander, Meindl, though 
concerned with what amounted to a 
manpower shortage for his wide front, 
felt certain that the defensive skill of 
his troops and the excellent positions 
would offset to a great extent the rather 
sparse dispositions. He was confident 
he could keep the Americans out of St. 
L6. 5 

The old part of the city of St. L6 oc- 
cupied a rock bluff that was crowned 
by ancient ramparts, a tower, and the 
graceful double spires of a fifteenth cen- 
tury church. Surrounding the bluff, 
modern St. L6 spreads across the low- 
lands and up the slopes of encircling 
hills. The Vire River, flowing general- 
ly northward, enters the city from the 
southwest, executes a horseshoe loop, 
and leaves to the northwest. The 
greater part of the city lies east of the 
river and outside the horseshoe. {Map 

The western suburb of St. L6, inside 



4 Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 1 1 Jul. 

5 Seventh Army KTB (Draft)., 11 Jul; Telecons, 
Pemsel to Hausser, 1220, 11 Jul, and Pemsel to 
Tempelhoff, 1245, 11 J u '> Seventh Army Tel Msgs; 
OB WEST KTB, 11 Jul; MS # B-401 (Meindl). 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



149 



the horseshoe loop, is on the high ground 
that extends westward to Coutances. 
The northern part of St. L6 rises steep- 
ly toward the plateau-like top of Hill 
122. On the east, the city spreads to- 
ward the base of the Martinville ridge, 
an eminence that ascends in a gentle 
slope for four miles to Hill 192. The 
southern portion climbs very briefly to- 
ward high ground that dominates the 
southern approaches. 

Two main highways intersect at St. 
L6, and five blacktop roads converge on 
the city. On the west, the highway 
from Coutances and the road from Les- 
say and Periers merge inside the river 
loop before crossing the stream into 
town. From the north two routes ar- 
rive, one the highway from Carentan 
through Pont-Hebert and along the 
western slope of Hill 122, the other the 
road from Isigny along the eastern edge 
of the hill. From the east, the road 
from Caumont merges with the high- 
way from Bayeux and Caen at the Be- 
rigny fork (seven miles from St. L6) 
and the resultant single large highway 
runs along the south face of the Martin- 
ville ridge and into town. From the 
south one highway and two roads enter 
the city. 

At the time of the invasion, St. L6 had 
been in the V Corps zone. Command- 
ed by Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, 
who had directed the landings on Omaha 
Beach and the drive to Caumont, the V 
Corps in June had anchored the Ameri- 
can left flank firmly on Caumont and 
in mid-June had surrendered the St. L6 
region to the XIX Corps, under Gener- 
al Corlett. Yet the configuration of 
the terrain— specifically, the location of 
Hill 192— is such that both corps had 



to participate in the direct attack toward 
the city. 6 Hill 192 is the culminating 
point of the high ground that straddles 
the Berigny-St. L6 road four miles 
northeast of St. L6. In the V Corps 
zone of operations, Hill 192 gave the 
Germans observation not only of the V 
Corps sector as far to the rear as the in- 
vasion beaches but also of all the ap- 
proaches to St. L6. Capture of the 
height thus was a prerequisite to the 
XIX Corps attack on the city. The 
XIX and V Corps consequently planned 
co-ordinated action for simultaneous at- 
tacks east of the Vire River on 1 1 July. 7 

Hill 192 

As the offensive east of the Vire be- 
gan, the focal point of the operations 
initially developed on Hill 192 and in- 
volved the right (west) flank unit of the 
V Corps. While the 2d Armored and 
the 1st Infantry Divisions on the left 
(east) of the V Corps sector defended 
Caumont and held the pivot point of 
the projected First Army wheeling move- 
ment, the 2d Infantry Division attacked 
on the right to secure Hill 192 in con- 
junction with the XIX Corps attack to- 
ward St. U>. s \(Map 8)\ 

Under Maj. Gen. Walter M. Robert- 
son, division commander since 1942, the 
2d Division had arrived in Normandy 



6 FUSA Ltr, Timing of Attack as Set Forth in 
FO 1, rev as of 1 Jul, 2 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File. 

7 XIX Corps Memo, 7 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl; 
Air Plan for Support of the 29th Div and Ltr of 
Instr, 10 Jul, 30th Div G—3 Jnl. 

8 V Corps Operations in the ETO, 6 Jan. 1942- 
9 May 1945 (G—3 Historical Sub-Section; n.p., n.d.) , 
pp. loiff. This is an excellent source containing 
a narrative account, reproductions of important 
documents, and annexes detailing the activities 
of the supporting services. 



J 50 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




1 



MAPS 



the day after the invasion and had par- 
ticipated in the early drive from Omaha 
Beach. Considered a good unit, the di- 
vision had no illusions about taking Hill 
192 easily, for an attempt in June had 
cost over 1,200 casualties within three 
days. 9 The division awaited the inevi- 
table order to attack the hill again; and 
while in physical contact with the ene- 
my at distances varying from several 
yards to a few hedgerowed fields, the di- 
vision shelled the hill thoroughly, drew 
up elaborate plans of attack, and con- 
ducted training specifically " 



* See Llr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 



the assault. The training emphasized 
tank-infantry-engineer proficiency in ap- 
plying the tactics of demolition, fire 
power, and speed in the hedgerow ter- 
rain. To achieve speed in the attack, 
troops scooped holes, large enough for 
tanks to drive through, in the hedgerow 
embankments that served as the line of 
departure— holes that left a thin shell of 
earth on the side facing the enemy; 
when the attack order came, the tanks 
would be able to crash through under 
their own power. Bursting through 
the hollowed-out hedgerows, the tankers 
hoped to be upon the Germans in the 
next row before antitank weapons 
be brought to bear. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



151 



Hill 192 had been "so pounded by 
artillery that aerial photographs showed 
it as a moth-eaten white blanket." 10 
Yet it was a strong position. The slopes 
of the hill rise gradually to a rather flat 
top, and the small fields bordered by 
hedgerows and the scattered woods that 
surface the slopes provided concealment 
for the defenders. Hedgerows present- 
ed natural defensive lines in depth. 
Sunken lanes provided excellent lines 
of communication easily protected by a 
few carefully sited weapons. Several 
hamlets and occasional farmhouses of- 
fered shelter for crew-served weapons 
and centers of resistance. A tower con- 
cealed in a diamond-shaped patch of 
woods, earlier destroyed by U.S. artil- 
lery fire but rebuilt by the Germans, 
gave the defenders a good observation 
post. A battalion of the 3d Parachute 
Division occupied the hill and had forti- 
fied it with an intricate system of mutu- 
ally supporting positions. 

The Germans maintained a tight coun- 
terreconnaissance screen, made maxi- 
mum use of sunken roads and hedges, 
and employed roadblocks, wire entangle- 
ments, and mine fields. Although the 
main defensive positions were judged 
shallow— perhaps only two or three 
hedgerows in depth— the Americans ex- 
pected the Germans to defend with de- 
termination and vigor and to employ 
local counterattacks to retain their posi- 
tions. There seemed to be few if any 
German tanks in the area, and intelli- 
gence officers estimated that the // Para- 
chute Corps did not have an impressive 
amount of artillery. The Americans 
were sure, however, that prior registra- 
tion would enable the Germans to cover 



Sylvan Diary, 11 Jul. 



the approaches to St. L6 and also the 
slopes of Hill 192 with precision fire. 

The "top of the hill is the big thing," 
General Gerow said, but to make it se- 
cure the 2d Division had to advance be- 
yond it and occupy a two and a half mile 
stretch of the Berigny highway between 
the Calvaire road and the Berigny fork. 
The other corps units were to make a 
strong demonstration; air support was 
arranged; the corps artillery and four 
artillery battalions of the other divisions 
in the corps sector were to reinforce the 
2d Division fires. 11 

The 38th Infantry (Col. Ralph W. 
Z wicker), on the right (west) and less 
than a thousand yards north of the crest 
of Hill 192, was to make the main assault 
with three tank companies and two heavy 
mortar companies attached. The 23d 
Infantry (Lt. Col. Jay B. Loveless), in 
the center, was to send one battalion 
across the eastern slope of the objective. 
The 9th Infantry (Col. Chester J. 
Hirschfelder), in position east of the 
Berigny fork, was to support the division 
attack with fire. 

Since a haze limited visibility on the 
morning of 1 1 July, the planned air sup- 
port was canceled. The artillery fired 
a heavy preparation for twenty minutes, 
and shortly after 0600 the division 
jumped off. 12 

The preceding night Colonel Zwick- 
er's 38th Infantry had withdrawn sev- 
eral hundred yards for safety during the 
anticipated air strike, and when the regi- 
ment jumped off the troops immediately 



11 2d Div G-3 Jnl, 0925, 11 Jul, FO 5, 6 Jul, and 
G-3 Per Rpt 33, 12 Jul; V Corps FO 10, 4 Jul. 

12 [Garth], St.-L6, pp. 58-60. This American 
Forces in Action booklet contains an excellent de- 
tailed account of the battle for St. L6 with emphasis 
on small unit action. 



152 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



met a heavy volume of enemy fire that 
temporarily prevented them from reach- 
ing their line of departure. The Ger- 
mans had discovered the slight with- 
drawal, had moved forward, and had 
thus escaped the full force of the twenty- 
minute artillery preparation. During 
the first half hour of the attack, they dis- 
abled with panzerfaust fire or forced to 
retire all six tanks in the first wave of 
one of the assault battalions. The 
stratagem of scooping out hedgerow 
banks to gain a surprise forward bound 
had thus been nullified. 

American infantrymen advanced slow- 
ly with the help of heavy and accurate 
artillery fire. Twenty thousand rounds 
were fired by the division artillery alone; 
a total of 45 tons of high explosive came 
from all the artillery in support. Tanks 
and bazooka teams knocked out assault 
guns concealed in the rubble of a village. 
A dozen riflemen enveloped by stealth 
an enemy position known as "Kraut 
Corner," reached grenade distance, 
and destroyed the enemy weapons. Fif- 
teen German paratroopers surrendered. 
Three who refused to capitulate were 
buried alive by a tank dozer. 

"We have a battle on our hands," Gen- 
eral Robertson said, "[but] things are 
breaking a little, a hundred yards here 
and a hundred yards there." 13 This was 
the pattern of the slow, vigorous advance 
that by noon got the 38th Infantry to 
the top of Hill 192. The Germans then 
disengaged and withdrew, and only scat- 
tered groups opposed the descent on the 
south slope. Part of the 38th Infantry 
dug in on a defensive perimeter just 
short of the highway and covered the 
road with fire; the other elements slipped 

18 2d Div G-3 Jnl, 0925 and 0955, 11 Jul. 



across the road in small groups and 
organized the high ground immediately 
to the south. 

Meanwhile, a battalion of the 23d In- 
fantry outflanked a gully called "Purple 
Heart Draw." Tanks placed direct fire 
on houses suspected of concealing Ger- 
man strongpoints. Several lucky shots 
by rifle grenades struck enemy-held 
hedgerows just right to achieve the effect 
of air bursts over enemy crew-served 
weapons. By late afternoon the bat- 
talion had crossed the east slope of Hill 
192 and gained positions overlooking 
the Berigny highway. 

That evening Hausser, the Seventh 
Army commander, ordered Meindl, the 
// Parachute Corps commander, to hold 
Hill 192 at all costs. 14 It was already 
too late. As U.S. artillery placed harass- 
ing fires south of the Berigny road dur- 
ing the night, the infantry repelled 
small and ineffective counterattacks. 
It became obvious to the Americans that 
the Germans were establishing a new 
line of defense in the hills south of and 
overlooking the St. L6— Berigny high- 
way. 

On 12 July the 2d Division advanced 
little, spending the day consolidating its 
new positions south of the Berigny 
road. The Germans were relieved when 
the American attack halted, for with 
their troops tied down by the XIX Corps 
attack toward St. L6, German com- 
manders felt that if the 2d Division had 
continued its attack toward the south, 
the Americans would have accomplished 
a clean breakthrough. 15 

The 2d Division had nonetheless 

14 Telecon, Pemsel and Meindl, igoo, 11 Jul, Sev- 
enth Army Tel Msgs. 

15 Telecon, Blauensteiner to Helmdach, 1140, 12 
Jul, Seventh Army Tel Msgs. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



153 



achieved a notable success. Although 
it had taken only 147 prisoners and sus- 
tained heavy losses— 69 killed, 328 
wounded, and 8 missing— it had captured 
the best observation point in the St. L6 
sector, a point from which the Ameri- 
cans could look down the Martinville 
ridge toward the XIX Corps objective. 

Down the Martinville Ridge 

The attack directly toward St. L6, by 
that part of the XIX Corps east of the 
Vire River, should logically have fol- 
lowed soon after the successive corps 
attacks in the Cotentin— those of the VIII 
Corps on 3 July, the VII on 4 July, and 
the XIX Corps bridgehead operation 
launched on 7 July. Although General 
Bradley had tentatively extended the 
pattern of his offensive by scheduling the 
direct attack toward St L6 for 9 July, con- 
siderations twice caused him to postpone 
the effort, each time for twenty-four 
hours. The first was his hope that com- 
mitment of armor west of the Vire would 
promote quick capture of the high 
ground west of St. L6. The second was 
his feeling that additional troops were 
needed east of the Vire. Though the 
29th Division, regarded as a good outfit, 
had formed the left of the XIX Corps 
early in July, Bradley believed, on the 
basis of combat experience in June, that 
a single division deployed on a wide 
front was not strong enough to take St. 
L6. At least one additional division 
would be necessary in order to mount 
an attack that could be supported in 
depth. 16 

Whether the 35th Division, designated 

16 Telecon, Corlett and Gerhardt, 0825, 8 Jul, 
29th Div G-3 Jnl; Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 
Jul, Pogue Files. 



for attachment to the XIX Corps, would 
reach France in time to participate at 
the beginning of the attack was the ques- 
tion. Though advance elements of the 
division had relieved portions of the 
30th Division and freed them for their 
bridgehead operations on 7 July, it 
would take "very strenuous efforts" to 
get all of the division's men and equip- 
ment into position to take over the right 
portion of the 29th Division zone. Not 
until 1 1 July was the 35th Division ready 
to attack. 17 \{See Map lfT) 

A scant tour miles north of St. L6, 
the 29th and 35th Divisions held posi- 
tions across an eight-mile front— from 
la Meauffe through Villiers-Fossard to 
the Couvains-Calvaire road. St. L6 
was in the center of the projected corps 
zone of operations. In order to secure 
St. L6, the divisions would have to ad- 
vance to the river line west of the city 
and to the Berigny road, the eastward 
exit from the city. 

The divisions were to attack abreast in 
narrow zones. The boundary separating 
them ran from Villiers-Fossard along the 
western base of Hill 122 to the loop of 
the Vire River. The 35th on the right 
was to move to the two-mile stretch of 
the Vire immediately northwest of St. 
L6; the 29th was to take the city. While 
one battalion of medium artillery sup- 
ported the XIX Corps attack west of the 
Vire, the rem inder of the corps artil- 
lery—four battalions of 155-mm. how- 
itzers and a battalion each of 4.5-inch 
guns and 8-inch howitzers— was to assist 
the attack on St. L6. General Corlett 
attached an additional battalion of medi- 

" 35th Div CofS Memo, 9 Jul, 35th Div G-3 Jnl; 
XIX Corps Ltr of Instrs, 7 Jul; XIX Corps and 
29th Div Msgs, 0712 and 1200, 10 Jul, XIX Corps 
G-3 Jnl. 



154 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



um artillery to the 29th Division, which 
was to make the main effort of the 
corps. 18 

The 29th Division was a veteran unit 
with D-Day experience on Omaha 
Beach. Commanded by Maj. Gen. 
Charles H. Gerhardt, it had taken Isigny 
and attempted to capture St. L6 in June. 
While awaiting the reopening of offen- 
sive operations, General Gerhardt had 
organized small tank-infantry-engineer 
teams and rehearsed their co-ordinated 
action according to a plan that assigned 
an infantry squad and one tank to each 
hedgerowed field and an engineer squad 
to each infantry platoon or three fields. 
He directed the division ordnance com- 
pany to weld iron prongs to his tanks 
so that they could ram holes in the 
hedgerow banks to facilitate the placing 
of demolitions. He also experimented 
with the technique of infantry crossing 
the center of the fields rather than mov- 
ing along hedgerows. 19 By these means, 
and with heavy artillery support, he 
hoped— even though replacements had 
not brought all of his infantry battalions 
back to authorized strength— to make a 
rapid, sustained advance. 

Bombed from the air and shelled 
from the ground, St. L6 was in ruins. 
To avoid not only the costly fighting 
involved in rooting Germans from the 
crumbling houses but also the task of 
clearing the rubble-clogged streets, Gen- 
eral Gerhardt designated high ground 
near the city rather than St. L6 itself as 
the immediate objectives: Hill 122 north 
of the town and just inside the division 
right boundary, the Martinville ridge to 

"XIX Corps Arty AAR, Jul. 
19 The Div Comdr's After Combat Battle Notes, 29 
Div AAR, Jul. 



the east, and the heights southeast of St. 
L6. With these in his possession and 
with the 2d Division holding Hill 192, 
Gerhardt hoped that by threatening to 
encircle the city he could compel the 
Germans to evacuate. 

Two of the three heights General Ger- 
hardt deemed necessary for his purpose 
were within striking distance— Hill 122 
and the Martinville ridge. Although 
possession of Hill 122 would give the 
29th Division a more direct avenue of 
approach to the city— the Isigny-St. L6 
highway, which enters St. L6 from the 
northeast— Gerhardt preferred not to at- 
tack it directly. Second only to Hill 192 
in importance in the St. L6 area, Hill 
122 was a bastion of the German defen- 
sive line, a position that anchored for- 
tifications on a two-mile ridge extending 
north to Carillon. The Germans were 
sensitive to a threat against this height, 
since its plateaulike crest ends abruptly 
at a steep slope near the edge of the 
northern outskirts of St. L6. From the 
top of the slope, the city lies exposed 
and vulnerable. 

General Gerhardt preferred to make 
his main effort on the left (east). He 
therefore deployed the 115th Infantry 
(Col. Godwin Ordway, Jr.) across a 
broad front, north and northeast of Hill 
122, on the division right. Even though 
all three infantry battalions were in the 
line, a gap of several hundred yards 
separated two of them. The reason for 
such thin deployment was Gerhardt's 
plan to make his main effort to secure 
the Martinville ridge. By holding this 
eminence east of St. L6, U.S. troops 
would threaten the Germans on Hill 122 
with encirclement and isolation from 
the south. In a potentially untenable 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 




Martinville Ridge 



position, the Germans on Hill 122 would 
have to withdraw through St. L6 before 
the Americans entered the city and cut 
their route of escape. As the Germans 
withdrew the Americans could decimate 
them with artillery fire. Occupation of 
both Hill 122 and the high ground 
southeast of St. L6 would then be a 
simple matter. 

Assuming that the 2d Division would 
take Hill 192 and thus secure his flank 
and rear, General Gerhardt directed the 
1 16th Infantry (Col. Charles D. W. Can 
ham) to slip south on a narrow front 
near the division left boundary to the 
Martinville ridge. There the regiment 
would turn right (west) and descend 
the ridge toward the eastern edge of 
town. The 1 15th Infantry was to make 
a diversionary effort down the Isigny-St, 
L6 road toward Hill 122 and protect the 
division right flank. The 175th Infan- 
try (Col. Ollie W. Reed) was to be pre- 
pared to exploit success— either on the 
Martinville Ridge or, if despite con- 
trary expectation the 115th met little 



resistance from Hill 122, along the 
Isigny-St. L6 axis. 20 

General Gerhardt's scheme was almost 
disarranged just before daybreak on 11 
July when the // Parachute Corps 
launched a diversionary feint in support 
of the Panzer Lehr attack west of the 
Vire.- 1 A German patrol cut the com- 
munication wires of the 115th Infantry. 
Enemy artillery and mortars opened fire. 
Two paratroop companies supported by 
engineers struck the thinly deployed 
troops of the 1 15th, overran the Ameri- 
can lines, encircled part of an infantry 
battalion, and drove a company of 4.2- 
inch mortarmen from their positions. 
Without communication and direction 
from higher headquarters, heavy mortar 
support, or knowledge of the extent of 
the German effort, small groups fought 
isolated engagements in the early morn- 
ing light. At 0730, judging that they 
had done their duty by Panzer Lehr, 



"■jgth Div FO 18, 4 Jul; 29th Div Arty FO 2, 4 
Jul; 116th InE FO 10, 5 Jul. 
"See above, Ch, VII. 



156 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the German assault companies broke 
contact and withdrew to their former 
positions. What was essentially a raid 
alerted the 29th Division to the possi- 
bility that German reserves had been 
massed in depth for counterattack and 
would be in position to make a strong 
defense of St. L6. The raid also inflict- 
ed more than a hundred casualties on 
the 1 1 5th and disrupted its scheduled 
jump-off. Regimental reorganization 
took the remainder of the morning, and 
Colonel Ordway did not launch his at- 
tack down the Isigny-St. L6 road until 
afternoon. As anticipated, little ad- 
vance was made in the face of strong 
enemy fire directed from Hill 12 2. 22 

Meanwhile, General Gerhardt had 
been able to get his main effort under 
way on the division left flank early that 
morning when two battalions of the 
116th Infantry jumped off in column 
behind a heavy artillery preparation. 
The hedgerows made it difficult to lo- 
cate the exact sources of enemy fire, and 
progress was slow against determined re- 
sistance. As 4. 2 -inch mortars fired on 
the Martinville ridge and tanks knocked 
out a self-propelled gun on the Calvaire 
road, the infantry finally got past its 
first major obstacle, a sunken road 
heavily protected by antipersonnel 
mines. The regiment still had gained 
only six hedgerows in five hours when, 
suddenly, as the 2d Division secured the 
crest of Hill 192, the German opposition 
gave way. The 116th Infantry then 
moved rapidly south to the Martinville 
ridge, turned right (west), and began to 
move down the ridge toward St. L6. 



22 29th Div AAR, Jul and Extract from the Bat- 
tle Report of the 3d Parachute Division Operations, 
10-20 Jul; XIX Corps Cml Sec Rpt, XIX Corps 
AAR, Jul. 



As soon as the assaulting troops surged 
forward, Colonel Canham, the regimen- 
tal commander, committed his reserve 
battalion. By the end of the day this 
battalion, with a company of tanks in 
close support, had set up blocking posi- 
tions on the division left flank. En- 
trenched on the south slope of the Mar- 
tinville ridge, the battalion overlooked 
the Berigny road. 

Toward the end of the first day Gener- 
al Gerhardt's effort to outflank Hill 122 
from the east and south promised suc- 
cess. The 2d Division had captured 
Hill 192 and was protecting the strong 
116th Infantry positions on the Martin- 
ville ridge. Apparently ready to close 
in on St. L6 and threaten Hill 122 with 
isolation, Gerhardt alerted his reserve 
regiment, the 175th, to pass through the 
1 1 6th on the following day and drive 
into the city from the east. 

The plan had one drawback. As soon 
as the 116th had turned the axis of at- 
tack from the south to the west, its left 
flank had become exposed; men moving 
across the open fields and orchards of 
the southern face of the Martinville 
ridge came under observed German fire 
from high ground south of the Berigny 
road. Having in effect sought defilade 
from the fires of Hill 122 against the 
north face of the Martinville ridge, the 
Americans had come under enfilading 
fire from the south, shelling that har- 
assed movement and depleted ranks. 
As a result the 29th Division on 1 1 July 
lost almost 500 men. 

If Gerhardt persisted with his original 
scheme of maneuver and brought the 
bulk of the division down the Martin- 
ville ridge, he would send his men 
through a gantlet of German fire. But 
because control of the southern face of 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



157 



the Martinville ridge would protect his 
flank against attack across the Berigny 
highway and because an approach to St. 
L6 from the east still held out the prom- 
ise of quickly dislodging the Germans 
on Hill 122, General Gerhardt decided 
to continue. He became convinced, 
however, that as long as the Germans had 
control of the hills north and south of 
St. L6, they were not likely to give up 
the city. Thus he had to take St. L6 
by direct assault and occupy the town. 
On the evening of 1 1 July he instructed 
Colonel Canham to "push on, if possible 
take St. L6." 23 Encroaching darkness 
helped to thwart the attempt. 

With the American scheme of maneu- 
ver revealed by a captured field order, 
German commanders during the morn- 
ing of 1 1 July had been un worried by 
the American attack. By noontime the 
outlook had changed. They had lost 
the top of Hill 192, and the Panzer Lehr 
attack west of the Vire River had fizzled. 
The considerable American pressure, 
not only in the St. L6 region but all 
across the Cotentin, was having a cumu- 
lative effect that could not be wished 
away. Trying to retain possession of 
the St. L6 defenses, the // Parachute 
Corps reported that its entire front had 
"burst into flame." A strong volume 
of effective artillery fire had by nightfall 
of 1 1 July reduced the 3d Parachute Di- 
vision to 35 percent of its authorized 
strength. The kampfgruppe of the 
353d Division, fighting alongside the 
paratroopers, had shrunk from almost 
1,000 men to 180. Approving commit- 
ment of the last reserve battalion of the 
3d Parachute Division, Meindl, the 



28 [Garth], St.-Ld, p. 58. 



corps commander, requested that a regi- 
ment of the 5th Parachute Division, ar- 
riving at this time from Brittany, be 
sent to reinforce his sector. Hausser, 
the Seventh Army commander, refused, 
judging that the Panzer Lehr defeat 
made the region west of St. L6 more 
critical. Hausser insisted, nevertheless, 
that the Martinville ridge be held at 
all costs. In response, Meindl remarked 
that someone was soon going to have to 
come up with a brilliant plan if they 
were to counter the American pressure. 
Meanwhile, Meindl established a new 
line during the night. The positions 
extended north across the Berigny high- 
way and over the Martinville ridge to 
tie in with Hill 122, and faced eastward 
to meet the threat that had developed 
on the Martinville ridge. 24 

On the second day of attack, 12 July, 
the 29th Division made little progress. 
On the right the 1 1 5th Infantry, ex- 
tended over a broad front, without a 
reserve, and under the eyes of the Ger- 
mans on Hill 122, did little more than 
maintain pressure and sustain casualties. 
On the left, the 175th Infantry was un- 
able—because of German artillery fire- 
to pass through the 1 1 6th and get into 
position for a drive down the Martin- 
ville ridge. German artillery and mor- 
tar fire immobilized the division and 
again inflicted almost 500 casualties. 

Losing nearly 1,000 men in two days 
was a serious drain on the division, 
which had not been up to strength at 
the beginning of the attack. A bat- 
talion of the 175th Infantry, even before 



24 Telecons, Pemsel to Meindl, 1900, 11 Jul, and 
Blauensteiner to Helmdach, 1140, 12 Jul, Seventh 
Army Tel Msgs; Seventh Army KTB (Draft), 11 
Jul; Daily Sitrep, 12 Jul, AGp B Tagesmeldungen; 
MS # B-455 (Ziegelmann) . 



158 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



commitment, had only 225 men in its 
three rifle companies. Several hours 
after the jump-off another battalion com- 
mander had replied, when General 
Gerhardt asked him how he stood in 
strength, "On one leg, sir." German 
fire depleted the division at an alarming 
rate, and the hedgerow fighting wore 
out the survivors. On the evening of 12 
July a regimental commander under- 
stated the case when he informed Ger- 
hardt, "I think everybody is enthusiastic 
about taking up a strong defensive posi- 
tion right now and I would recommend 
it too." 25 

After two days of battle the corps 
and division commanders, Generals Cor- 
lett and Gerhardt, both came to the 
conclusion, "Hill 122 is SOP"— they 
needed Hill 122 before they could take 
St. L6. By 13 July, however, General 
Gerhardt no longer had the strength to 
seize the hill. The bulk of the 29th 
Division, the 116th and 175th Regi- 
ments, was inextricably committed in 
the left portion of the division zone, 
the Martinville ridge; the 115th Infan- 
try, facing Hill 122 and in position to 
assault the height, remained stretched 
across a broad front. Gerhardt tenta- 
tively proposed to envelop and bypass 
the German strongpoint on Hill 122, 
but he did not press the point since he 
did not feel it was a satisfactory solu- 
tion. 26 

General Corlett held the solution to 
the problem of Hill 122. He could 
commit his corps reserve against it. 
Yet before doing so, he wanted to give 
Gerhardt's original plan of maneuver— 



25 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1215 and 1558, 11 Jul, and 
1707, 12 Jul. 
16 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 0955, 13 Jul. 



continuation of the effort down the 
Martinville ridge— one more day. To 
support the attack he requested particu- 
larly heavy air bombardment of Hill 
122. 27 

By morning of 13 July the two regi- 
ments on the Martinville ridge had 
managed to assume definite regimental 
zones abreast and facing west, the 116th 
generally holding the ridge line, the 
175th occupying positions across the 
southern face of the ridge to the Berigny 
road. In compliance with the corps 
commander's decision, General Gerhardt 
directed the 175th Infantry to drive 
down the Berigny highway to St. L6 be- 
hind a spearhead of tanks. With dive 
bombers blasting ahead of the ground 
troops and neutralizing Hill 122, artil- 
lery giving close protection, and tanks 
driving the point down the road, there 
was reason to hope that the city might 
fall. 

The hope was short lived. Hardly 
had daylight come before hindrances de- 
veloped. Not only did bad weather 
nullify the air effort, but lack of proper 
co-ordination prevented the tanks from 
refueling and immobilized them for the 
duration of the attack. Deprived of 
both armor and air support, the infantry, 
although aided by strong artillery fire, 
advanced but 500 yards under the 
pounding of German artillery and mor- 
tar shells directed from the ridge south 
of the highway. 

Late in the afternoon the regimental 
commander, Colonel Reed, requested 
permission to commit his reserve bat- 
talion against the high ground south of 
the Berigny road. When General Ger- 



27 29th Div FO 20, 12 Jul; 29th Div Arty AAR, 
Jul. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



159 



hardt relayed the request to the corps 
commander, General Corlett refused for 
fear it might promote a dispersal of ef- 
fort. Also, he had by then decided to 
take action against Hill 122 by com- 
mitting his reserve, a regiment of the 
35th Division, and he needed the reserve 
battalion of Reed's regiment to consti- 
tute a new corps reserve. Ordering 
General Gerhardt to rest his troops and 
reorganize his positions on the following 
day, 14 July, General Corlett turned his 
main attention to the 35th Division, the 
unit on the right that had also been at- 
tacking since 1 1 July and would now 
have to take Hill 122. 

Hill 122 

Commanded by Maj. Gen. Paul W. 
Baade, the 35th Division, though well 
trained, was handicapped by the haste 
with which it had to be committed. 
The troops had taken over part of the 
active front without extensive ground 
reconnaissance; their knowledge of the 
enemy was limited to the general idea of 
where the German forward line lay, the 
impression that the Germans were de- 
fending with vigor, and the immediate 
realization that the Germans had excel- 
lent observation of all movement, par- 
ticularly in the open fields. Only when 
the division launched its attack did the 
men learn how thoroughly the Germans 
had organized the terrain. 28 

From a line of departure running be- 
tween la Meauffe (on the Vire) and 
Villiers-Fossard, the 35th Division faced 
hedgerow country. The objective, four 



miles away, was the two-mile stretch of 
the Vire River between the loop and 
the bend. The division's right flank 
was fairly well protected by the Vire 
River; but on the left, just outside the 
boundary, Hill 122 dominated the en- 
tire zone. 

For his attack on 1 1 July, the same 
day that the 2d and 29th jumped off, 
General Baade planned to commit two 
regiments abreast— the 137th ( Col. Grant 
Layng) on the right adjacent to the 
river, the 320th (Col. Bernard A. Byrne) 
on the left. The 134th Infantry (Col. 
Butler B. Miltonberger) was to be held 
as corps reserve. After a thirty-minute 
artillery preparation, the division moved 
forward at 0600. 29 

The right flank elements of both as- 
sault regiments advanced a mile and a 
half in two hours and straightened the 
division front, but then the attack 
stalled. Meeting strong resistance in 
the hedgerows, the troops encountered 
many of the same difficulties that plagued 
nearly all inexperienced divisions in the 
hedgerows. Communications went out 
almost immediately. Gaps soon devel- 
oped between units. The men seemed 
surprised to find strong opposition from 
machine guns in sunken roads and be- 
hind hedges. With astonishment they 
noted that it was "hard to put down 
[artillery] fire behind hedges close to 
our tr[oop]s." 30 Though the troops 
had been informed while in England 
that the Cornish countryside was some- 
what like Normandy, neither planning 
nor training to overcome the terrain 
obstacles of the hedgerows had gone far 



28 Interv with Lt Col Beckley by Capt Franklin 
Ferris, CI 106; 35th Div G-3 Jnl, 9 Jul. 



29 35th Div FO 2, 10 Jul, and AAR, Jul. 

30 35th Div G-3 Jnl, 1820, n Jul. 



160 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Sunken Road Near. Carillon 



beyond speculation. 31 German mortar 
and automatic weapons fire was particu- 
larly heavy, and one of the wounded was 
a regimental commander. Colonel Layng. 
The first day of action did little more 
than give the troops their baptism of 
fire and rudely introduce them into 
the complexities of hedgerow warfare. 
Across the Vire River General Hobbs 
clamored for the 35th Division to ad- 
vance and cover the 30th Division 
flank. 32 

On the second day of attack, 12 July, 
the 33th Division employed a 45-minute 
artillery preparation to try to soften the 
German defenses. This helped to 
achieve success against a fortified posi- 

31 James A. Huston. Jiiography of A Rattalion 
(tiering, Nebraska; Courier Press, 1950) , p. 14. 
The volume gives an excellent account of opera- 
tions as seen from the point of view of a battalion 
staff officer. 

"See Telecon, t$ Jul, 35th Div G-3 Jnl File. 



tion in a church and cemetery on the 
right flank, where machine gunners in 
concrete emplacements behind the ceme- 
tery walls had been an immovable ob- 
struction since early the preceding day. 
A battalion cleared the obstacle shortly 
before noon; no prisoners were taken— 
all the Germans were dead. The infan- 
try then proceeded to take the next 
strongpoint, a fortified chateau that had 
been set ablaze the previous night by 
artillery shells. 

Despite this advance, the 35th Divi- 
sion made only slight gains on 12 and 
13 July. Inexperience and the hedge- 
rows were partly responsible, but more 
important was the strong German posi- 
tion at Carillon, which was in the center 
of the division zone and backed by the 
forces on Hill 122. 

Though envelopment looked like the 
answer at Carillon, every attempt was 
thwarted by a tack of maneuver room 
and by the dominating German posi- 
tions on Hill 12a. It became obvious 
that if the 35th Division was to progress, 
Hill 18 2, in the 29th Division zone, had 
to be in American hands. Only then 
did it seem that General Baade would 
be able to advance his right flank suf- 
ficiently to cover the 30th Division on 
the other side of the river. 

The situation was partially resolved 
on 14 July. While the a 9th Division 
rested and reorganized, General Baade 
sent out part of the 35th in an attack 
along the east bank of the Vire. Helped 
by a strong 30th Division drive on the 
other river bank, the 137th Infantry, 
commanded now by Col. Harold R. 
Emery, advanced in rain through mine 
fields and heavy mortar and artillery 
fire to the Pont-Hebert-St. L6 highway. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 

With all three battalions committed and 
with tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery 
giving strong support, the 137th secured 
part of the ridge road. The regiment 
lost 125 men and 11 medium tanks and 
took 53 prisoners. 

The results of the advance were im- 
portant. The Division, which de- 
fended the ground adjacent to and east 
of the Vire River, had always been 
troubled by its potentially precarious 
positions. The Vire River defined its 
left (west) flank and also crossed the 
unit rear. Since no permanent struc- 
tures bridged the Vire between Pont- 
Hebert and St. L6, if American troops 
drove to St. L6 or to the loop of the 
river, the division was trapped. To 
maintain lateral communications across 
the Vire, the Germans built an under- 
water bridge at Ranipan, south of Pont- 
Hebert, but it could not support a 
wholesale exodus from the sector. The 
loss of Pont-Hebert so threatened the 
Rampan crossing site that German en- 
gineers hurriedly began to build a tem- 
porary bridge just northwest of St. L6. aH 

Thoughts of withdrawal were becom- 
ing stronger as the battle proceeded. 
During the first three days of the Ameri- 
can effort in July, the 3 l >2d Division 
computed that it had borne 40 attacks— 
2 in regimental, 12 in battalion, and 26 
in company strength. The effect of the 
incessant thrust over a three-day period 
had forced the Germans back. If the 
U.S. infantry attacks had been effective, 
their artillery had been devastating. 
During the first two days, the German 
division had sustained 840 wounded, 
most from artillery fire, and was unable 
to count its dead. American counter- 



161 




U.S. Soldier in German Position 

battery fire was particularly impressive, 
destroying in one instance six of the 
twelve guns of one battalion. 

The rapid decline in the effectiveness 
of the 353d Division had serious con- 
notations for the Germans defending 
St. L6. Should the $52d collapse, Hill 
122 would be lost. The loss of Hill 122 
meant eventual withdrawal to the high 
ground south of St. Eo. Meindl there- 
fore reinforced the forces on Hill 122 
with 266th Division troops he had held 
in reserve and with the 30th Mobile 
Brigade, which had just returned to 
// Parachute Corps control after being 
relieved by Panzer Lehr in the sector 
west of the Vire. ;t4 

Unaware of the exact effect the 35th 
Division was having on the opposition, 
General Corlett was nevertheless con- 
scious that Pont-Hebert, secured in con- 



» MS # B-430 ( 



"MS # B-455 (Ziegelmann) ; Hodgson, R-54. 



162 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



junction with the 30th Division attack 
on the other side of the river, gave the 
35th a favored position. With a foot- 
hold on the ridge road, the Americans 
held an excellent approach to St. L6 
from the northwest. Having outflanked 
the German strongpoint at Carillon, 
they also threatened Hill 122. Though 
the 320th Infantry, which was echeloned 
to the left rear for two miles, could do 
little more than exert unavailing pres- 
sure against Carillon, the 137th had 
fashioned an enveloping pincer against 
the Carillon-Hill 122 complex from the 
west. A similar pincer from the east 
would form a double envelopment of 
Carillon and Hill 122. Because the 
29th Division, with the bulk of its forces 
on the Martinville ridge, did not have 
enough troops in position to assault Hill 
122 from the northeast, Corlett shifted 
the division boundary to the east, to 
the Isigny— St. L6 highway, giving the 
35th Division more maneuver space and 
Hill 122 as an objective. Corlett re- 
leased the 134th Infantry from the corps 
reserve and directed Baade to take the 
height. In preparation for the attack, 
the 134th on 14 July replaced two bat- 
talions of the 1 1 5th Infantry that were 
west of the Isigny-St. L6 highway, 
thereby getting into position to strike 
for Hill 122 while at the same time 
bringing relief to the overextended 29th 
Division. 35 

General Baade's intention was to at- 
tack with both flank regiments. While 
the 320th contained the Germans at 
Carillon, the 137th, on the right, was 
to advance across the Pont-Hebert-St. 
L6 ridge road. The 134th, on the left, 
was to move forward in direct assault 
36 35th Div AAR, Jul. 



against Hill 122. Success on the flanks, 
would neutralize the Carillon position, 
eliminate Hill 122, and open the way 
for an easy advance to the final division 
objective, the stretch of the Vire River 
between the loop and the bend. 

A need to diverge from this plan be- 
came obvious on 15 July soon after the 
137th Infantry attacked on the right to 
cross the Pont-Hebert-St. L6 ridge road. 
Artillery and mortar fire directed from 
Hill 122 inflicted 117 casualties and 
stopped the regiment cold. The 137th 
could not advance, General Baade de- 
duced, until the 134th Infantry took 
Hill 122. 

Colonel Miltonberger's 134th Infantry 
also had attacked early on 15 July. The 
axis of advance was a country road, dirt- 
surfaced and narrow, from Villiers- 
Fossard through Emelie to the hardly 
discernible flat top of the hill. The 
road parallels the Isigny— St. L6 highway, 
a mile to the east, and rises slightly for 
almost three miles as it mounts the 
gentle northern incline of Hill 122, then 
drops down the precipitous descent into 
the northern edge of St. L6. On both 
sides of the road typical bocage terrain 
offered advantages to the defenders— im- 
pressive hedgerows and sunken lanes 
that are veritable caves. 

The 134th Infantry moved toward 
the cluster of farm buildings at Emelie 
behind a rolling artillery barrage. Al- 
most immediately the men became en- 
meshed in a tangle of hedgerowed lanes 
and a shower of enemy fire. The threat 
of confusion hovered over the battlefield 
as small units fought for individual 
fields. Although the regiment suffered 
high casualties in severe splinter actions, 
it had the hamlet of Emelie by noon. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



163 



Encouraged by this success, General 
Baade told Brig. Gen. Edmund B. 
Sebree, the assistant division command- 
er, to form a task force and lead it in 
the remaining thrust to the crest of Hill 
122. Uniting the 134th with two com- 
panies of the 737th Tank Battalion, a 
company of the 60th Engineer Battalion, 
and a platoon of the 654th Tank De- 
stroyer Battalion, General Sebree com- 
pleted his preparations by evening. 36 
At 2030, after planes bombed German 
positions around St. L6 and as the 29th 
Division attacked in its sector, the task 
force of the 35th Division jumped off. 

In the deceptive illumination of twi- 
light, the task force moved swiftly. Ad- 
vancing up the north slope of Hill 122, 
General Sebree called on direct fire sup- 
port from one artillery battalion, parts 
of two others, and the entire 82d Chemi- 
cal Battalion. It was a mile to the crest 
of the hill, and the task force was there 
by midnight. While the infantrymen 
dug in, engineers hauled sandbags, wire, 
and mines up the incline to bolster de- 
fensive positions against counterattacks 
that were sure to follow. The Germans 
still had sufficient maneuver room north 
of St. L6 to launch counterattacks, but 
the integrity of the German strongpoint 
had been at least temporarily cracked. 

The expected counterthrust came in 
the early hours of 16 July and drove the 
infantry back slightly until a newly com- 
mitted reserve battalion helped restore 
the line. 37 Later that day the Germans 
launched another attack, supported by 
heavy mortar and artillery fire. This 



36 Memo, 15 Jul, 35th Div G-3 Jnl. 

37 35th Div G-3 Jnl, 1145, 16 J u l- ist Lt. Vernon 
W. Pickett was awarded the DSC for his defensive 
action. 



time American infantrymen gave way in 
sizable numbers— some stragglers fled 
back to Emelie— but a counterassault 
picked up momentum and troops of the 
35th Division crossed the crest of Hill 
122 despite heavy artillery fire. 38 As 
German artillery and mortar shells con- 
tinued to fall on the hill, American 
troops had an astonishingly clear view 
of St. L6, barely a mile away. 

Capture of Hill 122 foreshadowed the 
end of the battle. With this bastion 
lost, the German defenses around St. L6 
began to crumble. On 17 July, the 
137th Infantry on the division right was 
finally able to break across the Pont- 
Hebert-St. L6 ridge road. Driving 
south toward the Vire River, the regi- 
ment encountered diminishing resist- 
ance. Meanwhile, the 320th Infantry 
prepared to mop up the Carillon area, 
which the Germans had virtually aban- 
doned. 39 

"Come Hell or High Water" 

Although the end of the battle for 
St. L6 could be foreseen on 17 July, 
capture of the city had not seemed im- 
minent on 14 July when the 29th Divi- 
sion had paused to reorganize and pre- 
pare to renew the attack. Though the 
city was but 3,000 yards away, it re- 
mained in many respects almost as elu- 
sive as it had through the first three days 
of the battle. 

Narrowing the 29th Division front to 

~ 38 XIX Corps Msg, 1720, 16 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; 
35th Div Rpt of Situation, 0930, 17 Jul, XIX Corps 
G-3 Jnl and File. T. Sgt. Joseph P. Fuller and 
Pfc. Buster E. Brown received the DSC for heroic 
action. 

39 S. Sgt. Carl J. Frantz, T. Sgt. Irvin F. Conley, 
and T. Sgt. Harold D. Snyder were awarded the 
DSC for actions on 11, 13, and 17 July, respectively. 



164 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



exclude Hill 122 had provided the 
troops a fresh hope when they resumed 
the attack on 15 July. After a day of 
reorganization and rest, the 115th In- 
fantry moved out along the Isigny— St. 
L6 road, the 116th made the main effort 
along the crest of the Martinville ridge 
on a 600-yard front, and the 175th In- 
fantry gave fire support from positions 
echeloned to the left rear along the 
Berigny road. 

For all the expectations, the attack 
on 15 July began to show signs of dismal 
failure. The 116th immediately lost 
seven medium tanks to enfilading enemy 
fire from the south. Despite diversion- 
ary attacks launched by the 175th In- 
fantry and air strikes by the IX Tactical 
Air Command, the main effort did not 
get rolling. 40 On the division right, the 
1 1 5th lost several hundred yards as the 
result of confusion. Intermingling bat- 
talions and misplaced tanks disrupted 
regimental control. Lack of proper co- 
ordination with the 35th Division caused 
misunderstanding and an exchange of 
fire among U.S. troops. The firm action 
of an artillery liaison officer, who took 
command of an infantry company and 
restored order and discipline, prevented 
a panicky withdrawal. A tank platoon 
nearby might have helped the regiment 
to regain the lost ground, but the tank 
commander could not locate a key in- 
fantry officer. While the tankers waited 
for instructions, the tanks remained 
idle." 

The division commander, General 
Gerhardt, was at first cautiously opti- 
mistic. "Looks like we are maybe going 
to roll," he said. His optimism later 



40 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1130, 15 Jul. 

41 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 0920, 15 Jul. 



changed to stubborn determination. 
"We're going to keep at this now," he 
announced, "come hell or high water." 
Since the day passed with little more 
than an exchange of counterbattery fires 
and reorganization of some units, Gen- 
eral Gerhardt planned a night attack. 
"We might do it tonight," he said. 
Several hours later he admitted, "We 
. . . did not make the grade." 42 The 
115th and 175th Regiments had made 
no appreciable gain, while the 116th 
Infantry, commanded now by Col. 
Philip R. Dwyer, had made what looked 
like no more than a minor initial ad- 
vance. 43 

Unknown to the division commander 
at the time, an event had taken place 
during the night that was to exercise a 
significant and fortunate influence on 
the battle of St. L6. Two assault bat- 
talions of the 116th Infantry had been 
making good progress along the Martin- 
ville ridge when the division headquar- 
ters, evidently lacking accurate knowl- 
edge of the situation and fearing an 
overextension of lines, had ordered a 
halt. One battalion stopped and con- 
solidated a gain of about 500 yards. 
The other continued to move, for the 
battalion commander, Maj. Sidney V. 
Bingham, Jr., had received the order 
to halt while he was checking his supply 
lines in the rear. Lacking communica- 
tion at that particular moment with his 
advance units, Bingham went forward 
to stop the advance. When he reached 



42 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1357, 2055, and 2225, 15 Jul; 
29th Div Msg, 1201, 15 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl and 
File. 

43 Colonel Dwyer replaced Colonel Canham, who 
was promoted to brigadier general and transferred 
to the 8th Division as the assistant division com- 
mander. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 

his leading troops, he found that they 
were more than 1,000 yards beyond the 
regimental front and were organizing 
positions astride the Berigny highway. 
Having met little opposition, they had 
angled down across the fate of the 
Martinville ridge to a point less than 
1,000 yards from the eastern edge of 
St. L6. 

German artillery and mortar fire di- 
rected at the main body of the 1 16th 
Infantry fell behind and isolated Bing- 
ham's comparatively small unit. Lack- 
ing half a rifle company, a squad of the 
heavy weapons company, the 8 1 -mm. 
mortars, and the battalion staff— all of 
which were with the hulk of the regi- 
ment—the battalion formed a defensive 
perimeter. Reporting the gain to the 
regimental commander, Major Bingham 
said he thought he could hold even 
though he had little ammunition. 

Separating the isolated force from the 
1 16th and 175th Regiments were gaps of 
i, 000 and 700 yards, respectively. So 
strong was enemy fire from artillery, 
mortars, and automatic weapons that at- 
tempts by both regiments to reach the 
isolated battalion were blocked. So vul- 
nerable was the position that some 
thought the entire battalion would 
be annihilated. On the other hand, 
the battalion's position constituted the 
closest American approach to St. L.6. 
Eventually, the latter condition was to 
prove a significant indication to Ger- 
mans and Americans alike that the city's 
defenses were in reality disintegrating. 

That this was the case seemed far 
from plausible at midnight, 15 July, 
when General Corlett turned over to 
the VII Corps his sector west of the Vire 
River and devoted his entire attention 




After Securing Hill ibb, July. 

to the situation east of the Vire. The 
situation at St. L6 was hardly encourag- 
ing. On the right, the 35th Division 
was halted before the Pont-Hebert-St. 
L6 ridge road and had then only a 
precarious hold on Hill 123. On the 
left, the 29th Division was in even worse 
straits; one regiment unable to advance 
down the Isigny-St. L6 highway and the 
other two stopped on the Martinville 
ridge, apparently incapable either of 
driving the short distance into the city 
or of establishing physical contact with 
an isolated battalion. Yet more than 
ever the Americans needed St. L6, 
General Bradley needed to control the 
Vire River crossing site at St. L6 in order 
to block German threats against the 
flank of his new operation. It was vital 
to bring the battle of St. Lo swiftly to an 
end, yet there seemed little alternative 



166 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



to the slow costly pattern of yard-by-yard 
advances already so familiar. 

There was little improvement on 16 
July. While the 35th Division fought 
to retain Hill 122, the 29th Division 
seemed virtually paralyzed. The 115th 
Infantry advanced about 300 yards down 
the Isigny-St. L6 highway and came 
abreast of the 35th Division forces on 
Hill 122, but the regiments on the 
Martinville ridge could not relieve the 
isolated battalion. 

Six days of fighting had brought the 
29th close to its goal, but with consid- 
erably weakened forces. Two days 
earlier, 125 replacements had restored 
one battalion of the 116th Infantry 
to only 60 percent of its authorized 
strength; during the night of 16-17 July 
another battalion received 250 enlisted 
replacements, bringing its total strength 
to 420. On 16 July a battalion of the 
115th had only a platoon of riflemen re- 
maining in each rifle company. On 17 
July 200 men comprised the three rifle 
companies of a battalion of the 175th, 
and most of the commissioned and non- 
commissioned officers had been killed 
or wounded. Although these were ex- 
treme cases, the other infantry battalions 
were also seriously depleted. 44 

For the final assault on St. L6 at the 
opportune moment, General Gerhardt 
turned to the supporting arms. He in- 
structed Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota, the 
assistant division commander, to form a 
task force of tank, reconnaissance, tank 
destroyer, and engineer troops. They 
were to be assembled in the division rear 
area at a location that would enable 
them to attack toward St. L6 from either 

44 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1335, 16 Jul, and 1256, 17 
Jul. 



the northeast— by way of the Isigny-St., 
L6 highway— or the east— down the Mar- 
tinville ridge. Because Hill 122 was 
not yet entirely secure, General Ger- 
hardt still expected to make his climactic 
drive into St. L6 from the east, but he 
wanted to be ready to drive from the 
northeast should capture of Hill 122 
prove in reality to be the decisive factor 
in the battle for St. L6. 

A Legend is Born 

On 17 July, the seventh day of attack, 
the 29th Division struck before dawn. 
Maj. Thomas D. Howie, commanding 
the 3d Battalion, 116th Infantry, led his 
men in a column of companies in a 
silent march toward Major Bingham's 
isolated unit. Suspicious Germans in- 
creased their artillery and mortar fire 
and played grazing machine gun fire 
across the slope of the Martinville ridge. 
Howie's men resisted the impulse to re- 
turn this fire and crept forward through 
an early morning mist, still undetected. 
Several hours after daybreak, they 
reached Bingham's isolated force: 

The regimental commander, Colonel 
Dwyer, had hoped that the two bat- 
talions together would be able to enter 
the city, but Bingham's men were ex- 
hausted. Howie informed Dwyer by 
telephone that they were incapable of 
further effort. When Dwyer asked 
whether Howie could move his battalion 
alone to the eastern edge of town, Howie 
replied, "Will do." Several minutes 
later an enemy shell killed him. 

Taking command of Howie's battal- 
ion, Capt. William H. Puntenny tried to 
mount the attack on St. L6 along the 
Berigny highway, but the Germans 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



167 



threw up such a heavy curtain of mortar 
fire that the men could not move. All 
through the day the German fire denied 
an advance. Late that afternoon a 
counterattack with tank support started 
from St. L6 to eliminate the Bingham- 
Puntenny force. Only the fortuitous 
presence of American dive bombers 
saved the day. While the planes strafed 
and bombed the German column, the 
division artillery placed a protective 
screen of fire about the American 
positions. 45 Disorganized, the Germans 
withdrew their assault force, but now 
two American battalions were isolated. 

All efforts of the ist Battalion, 116th 
Infantry, to open a route to Bingham 
and Puntenny on 17 July and to bring 
forward ammunition, food, and medical 
supplies failed. Half-tracks and tank 
destroyers, escorted by quadruple .50- 
caliber machine guns, found the sunken 
roads about Martinville so clogged with 
debris, dead horses, and wrecked Ger- 
man vehicles that an advance under con- 
tinuing enemy artillery fire was impos- 
sible. The 175th Infantry also at- 
tempted to reach the isolated men by 
attacking down the Berigny highway, 
but the regiment sustained severe losses 
and made little advance. The only re- 
lief was that brought by light planes of 
the division artillery, which dropped suf- 
ficient blood plasma for 35 wounded 
men. 

On the night of 17 July a carrying 
party of about forty men of the 1st Bat- 
talion, 116th Infantry, finally reached 
the isolated units. The next morning, 
18 July, a rifle company— which had 

" [Lt. Col. Robert H. George], Ninth Air Force, 
April to November 1944, USAF Hist Study 36 
(Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Air University, 
'945). P- "8. 



been reduced to 23 veterans but re- 
plenished with 85 replacements— opened 
a supply route to Bingham and Puntenny 
across the thousand-yard gap. Advanc- 
ing in two columns along the axial 
hedgerows one field apart, maintaining 
visual contact between columns, and 
leaving four men in each field to hold 
the supply line open, the company met 
only light rifle fire. Supplies were 
brought forward and the wounded were 
evacuated. The few Germans, in small 
and disorganized groups, who blundered 
into the supply route during the day 
were either killed or captured. 

By the time contact was firmly estab- 
lished with the two isolated battalions, 
the Martinville ridge had lost impor- 
tance in the battle of St. L6. The ex- 
planation had its basis in the condition 
that for seven long days had plagued 
the attacks along the ridge. 

In full view of the Germans south of 
the Berigny highway, every American 
movement along the south face of the 
Martinville ridge had brought deadly 
fire. Though the two regiments on the 
ridge had constituted a threat to the 
town, they had been unable to make the 
threat good. Attempts to impress the 
troops with the fact that the German 
positions were worse than their own had 
not succeeded. "Tell them that Jerry 
is in a wedge," the division G-3 had 
ordered a liaison officer. "Jerry doesn't 
seem to realize it," had come the reply. 46 
So it seemed, for in spite of the wedge 
exerting pressure from the north— Hill 
122— and from the east— the Martinville 
ridge— the Germans had obstinately re- 
fused to release their hold on the city. 
With the passage of time it had become 

"29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1216, 17 Jul. 



168 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



a matter of increasing certainty that the 
forces on the ridge lacked the strength 
to make the final drive to the objective. 

On the afternoon of 17 July, after 
the 35th Division had firmly established 
its control over Hill 122, General Ger- 
hardt concluded that the 1 1 5th Infan- 
try and not the regiments on the Martin- 
ville ridge really held the key to St. L6. 
To insert the key, General Gerhardt had 
somehow to get the regiment to the 
gates of the city. He therefore directed 
Colonel Ordway to advance the 1 1 5th 
to the northeast outskirts of St. L6. 
The advance depended almost wholly 
upon the battalion in the regimental 
center. "Expend the whole battalion if 
necessary," General Gerhardt ordered, 
"but it's got to get there." An hour 
later he repeated the same order. 47 By 
nightfall of 17 July the troops of the 
entire 115th Infantry were near the 
northeastern fringe of the city, but 
getting there had brought them to the 
point of almost complete exhaustion. 

Convinced beyond doubt that the only 
feasible point of entry to St. L6 was the 
northeastern gate, General Gerhardt 
changed his week-long scheme of maneu- 
ver. For operations on 18 July, he 
ordered the two regiments on the left— 
those on the Martinville ridge— to hold 
in place while the 115th made the main 
effort into the city. 48 

Early on 18 July, General Gerhardt 
phoned to ask General Baade what he 
was planning to have the 35th Division 
do that day. General Baade replied 
that he would "probably sit tight." As 



47 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1456 and 1545, 17 Jul. 
"XIX Corps Msg 2245, 17 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 
Jnl and File; Ltr of Instr, 2300, 17 Jul. 



an afterthought he asked, "Are you 
going in?" 

"I'm going to try," General Gerhardt 
answered. 

"In that case," General Baade said, 
"so will I." 

"You can help on your left," General 
Gerhardt suggested. 

General Baade promised he would 
"look into it." 

Three minutes later General Gerhardt 
was telling the corps commander that he 
thought the 35th Division should be 
ordered to attack to aid the 29th and 
not be allowed to attack "just because 
someone else [the 29th] is doing it." 

General Corlett's reaction was sharp: 
"You had better just take on what I said 
in your order." Apparently realizing 
Gerhardt's fatigue, he added, "Just take 
St. L6 and secure it." 49 

If these conversations revealed a ten- 
sion among American commanders, 
those occurring among German officers 
disclosed even greater concern. Seventh 
Army had called Army Group B in the 
midafternoon of 17 July, and Hausser 
requested not only permission to with- 
draw in the St. L6 sector but also an 
answer by 1800 that day. There was 
some double talk about withdrawing to 
a line north of St. L6, but this was not 
feasible in terms of the terrain. A with- 
drawal meant retirement to the heights 
just south of the city, though combat 
outposts could be retained north of St. 
L6. B0 

The request was rather surprising be- 
cause under Hitler's standing order to 
hold fast, permission to withdraw was 



"29th Div G-3 Jnl, 0638 and 0641, 18 Jul. 
6 °Telecon, Pemsel to Tempelhoff, 1520, 17 Jul, 
AGp B KTB. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



169 



a prerogative of OKW. Yet more sur- 
prising was the army group reply to the 
Seventh Army. The operations officer 
of Army Group B stated that, after dis- 
cussion, the staff had decided that for- 
warding Hausser's request to OB WEST 
for further transmittal to OKW was not 
practical. "You take whatever measures 
you think are necessary," the operations 
officer advised; "if you have to withdraw, 
go ahead; just report to us afterwards 
that the enemy penetrated your main 
line of resistance in several places and 
that you barely succeeded in re-establish- 
ing a new line to the rear." 51 

Several reasons made a withdrawal 
necessary. American capture of Hill 
122 and the attrition of the German 
troops in that sector exposed St. L6 
from the north. The shortage of troops 
along the entire St. L6 front made it 
impossible for the // Parachute Corps to 
re-establish a defensive line north of the 
city. Underscoring the difficult, even 
hopeless, situation at St. L6 were the 
events that had occurred on the other 
side of the Vire: the 30th Division ad- 
vance through Pont-Hebert to Rampan, 
the failure of the abortive Panzer Lehr 
counterattack on 15 July that did no 
more than delay the 30th Division ad- 
vance, and the mistaken notion that U.S. 
troops had crossed the river at Rampan 
to infiltrate the rear of the 353d Divi- 
sion. All added up to the uncomfort- 
able threat of American encirclement of 
St. L6 from the west. 

As though this was not bad enough, 
Rommel, the Army Group B com- 
mander, while driving forward to visit 
the front on the afternoon of 17 July, 



01 Telecon, Tempelhoff to Pemsel, 1750, 17 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Msgs, and 1755, AGp B KTB. 



incurred a severe skull fracture in an 
automobile accident brought on by 
strafing from an Allied plane. That 
evening, when the news became known 
to the Germans, the OB WEST com- 
mander, Kluge, assumed command of 
Army Group B as well. 

By this time, Army Group B had 
passed Hausser's withdrawal request to 
OB WEST, which informed Jodl at 
OKW that troops were pulling back to 
hills north of St. L6. Kluge tried to 
avert a complete withdrawal, but though 
he ordered Hausser to keep the Ameri- 
cans out of the city, he could find no 
reserves to reinforce the St. L6 sector. 52 
The 5th Parachute Division, which had 
arrived from Brittany several days 
earlier, was already committed to rein- 
force Panzer Lehr. The 275th Divi- 
sion, which was following the paratroop- 
ers, would not arrive in the St. L6 
region for another day. Panzer Group 
West, which might have furnished 
troops, was expecting a strong British at- 
tack in the Caen area, and Kluge dared 
not disturb Eberbach's dispositions. Re- 
luctantly, Kluge permitted Hausser to 
withdraw. 53 Undetected by the Ameri- 
cans, the main forces retired that night 
leaving strong combat outposts north of 
St. L6. 

On the American side, General Ger- 
hardt completed his preparations for as- 
sault on the morning of 18 July. 
Though the 1 1 5th Infantry had made 
the drive possible, Gerhardt replaced 
the regimental commander. "You did 
your best," Gerhardt told him. Colonel 

52 Telecon, Speidel to Pemsel, 2155, 17 Jul, Sev- 
enth Army Tel Msgs; Hodgson,. R-54. 

53 Telecons, Kluge and Rommel, 2040, 16 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, and Speidel to Pemsel, 2200, 17 
Jul, AGp B KTB. 



170 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Infantrymen Hit the Ground on a Street in St. Lo 



Ednie, who had come from the 30th 
Division to understudy the assistant 
division commander, took his place. 
Ednie's mission was to open the north- 
east entrance to the city for the passage 
of General Cota's task force. Unaware 
of the German withdrawal, General Ger- 
hardt was cautious. "We may go into 
St. L6," he informed the corps com- 
mander, "but we don't want anyone to 
get cut off in there." 54 

After an artillery preparation, the 
115th Infantry attacked. Since Hill 122 
was no longer a point of embarrassment, 
the regiment made good progress. At 
noon Colonel Ednie was hammering on 



the gate. "I believe this is the time 
to alert that Task Force," he advised 
General Gerhardt. The division com- 
mander no longer doubted. "Every- 
thing's shaping up now," he informed 
General Cota, "so I think you'd better 
get moving." SB 

Forty minutes later General Gerhardt 
transmitted another order to General 
Cota. He wanted the body of Major 
Howie to accompany the first U.S. troops 
into town. 56 The act was to be not only 
a gesture of honor and respect to the 
fallen but also a visible reminder to the 
membeTs of the task force of all their 
comrades who had given their lives in a 



s * 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 0725 and 0901, 18 Jul. 



SE 2<)th Div G-3 Jnl, 1147 and 1149, 18 Jul. 
" 29th Div G-3 Jul, i a3 6, .8 Jul. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



171 




Ruins of St. L0 



interference as it approached the line 
of scrimmage— the ist Battalion, 115th 
Infantry, which was closest to the goal. 
Silencing an antitank gun just outside 
the town, passing through harassing 
artillery and scattered rifle hre, and 
hreaking through a roadblock, the task 
force entered the northeast portion of 
St. L6 at 1800 of the eighth day of the 
battle. Quickly seizing a square near 
the cemetery and organizing it as a base 
of operations, Task Force C moved 
rapidly through the rubble-choked 
streets to points of importance. Small 
groups occupied key road junctions, 
squares, and bridges. One hour after 
the task force entered the town it was 
apparent that only scattered German 



task not yet completed. The choice of 
Major Howie's body was particularly 
apt, for Howie, who had taken command 
of a battalion only three days before his 
death, represented the qualities of 
courage and sacifice that had made the 
drive to the gates of St. L6 possible. 
The triumph belonged to the dead as 
well as to the living, and through Major 
Howie the fallen were to participate in 
the culmination of the effort. 

At 1500, 18 July, General Cota's Task 
Force C departed its assembly area near 
the division left boundary, crossed the 
division zone, and began to roll down 
the Isigny-St. L6 highway. Like a left 
halfback making a wide run around 
right end, the task force picked up its 



172 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



resistance remained to be cleared. The 
bridges over the Vire were still intact. 57 

About the time the 29th Division task 
force began its drive into St. L6, the 
35th Division completed its assignment. 
Colonel Byrne's 320th Infantry mopped 
up bypassed enemy in the center of the 
division zone, Colonel Emery's 137th 
Infantry reached the bank of the Vire 
River between the loop and the bend, 
and Colonel Miltonberger's 134th Infan- 
try moved down the south slope of Hill 
122 to the northern edge of St. L6. Be- 
cause the division boundary did not per- 
mit the 35th to enter into town, General 
Baade requested a boundary change. 
The XIX Corps G-3 first checked with 
General Gerhardt: "We have another 
division crying for part of St. L6," he 
reported. 

"OK," General Gerhardt said, "let 
them go to it." 

Despite General Gerhardt's largess, 
the corps commander was reluctant to 
condone the possibility of confusion and 
lack of control that might result from 
intermingling troops of the two divi- 
sions in the city. He decided not to 
shift the boundary, yet some 35th Divi- 
sion troops inevitably entered St. L6 
and moved a short way into town. 58 

What had caused St. L6 to fall was the 
weight of two divisions pressing forward 
relentlessly for eight days. But if 
specific events have direct causal rela- 
tion, two were mainly responsible. The 
capture of Hill 122 was the more ob- 



67 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 0517, 19 Jul. 

58 29th Div G-3 Jnl, 1615, 18 Jul; Penciled note, 
n.d., 35th Div G-3 Jnl File, 18 Jul; 134th Infantry 
Regiment, Combat History of World War II, com- 
piled by Butler Buchanan Miltonberger (Baton 
Rouge, Louisiana: Army and Navy Publishing 
Company, 1946) , p. 44. 



vious, for its seizure the day before the 
fall of St. L6 had deprived the Germans 
of a vital point in their line of defense. 
The other event was of more subtle 
significance. At the same time that the 
35th Division was securing a hold on 
Hill 122, the 29th Division was pene- 
trating the enemy defensive line across 
the Martinville ridge by means of Major 
Bingham's accidental advance of 1,000 
yards. Although temporarily encircled 
and isolated, Bingham's battalion, less 
than 1,000 yards from St. L6, presented 
a serious menace to the defenders— "an 
enemy battalion behind our lines." 59 
Major Howie's relief force had strength- 
ened the threat. Although the 29th 
Division troops on the Martinville ridge 
did not have the power to take the city, 
their positions constituted a contain- 
ment force, a base or anchor for the 
coup de grace delivered by Task Force C. 
The original scheme of maneuver had 
thus been reversed. The intended ma- 
neuver force, the 116th and 175th Regi- 
ments, had become the base, while the 
115th Infantry, earlier designated the 
holding force, had become, with Task 
Force C, the assault element. 

If speed was a fundamental require- 
ment of General Gerhardt's mission, the 
question of whether the corps attack had 
been the most expeditious manner of 
securing St. L6 remained a lingering 
doubt. Other U.S. units advancing 
with the same slow rate of speed in the 
hedgerow country obscured the possi- 
bility that the corps might have secured 
its objective more rapidly had it attacked 
Hill 122 at the same time that the V 
Corps had attacked Hill 192. Had the 



EB Telecon, Pemsel to Tempelhoff, 2110, 17 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Msgs. 



THE BATTLE FOR ST. LO 



173 




Symbol of St. Lo. The flag-draped coffin of Major Howie rests on the rubble- 
buried steps of Ste. Croix church. 



Americans controlled Hill 122, the 29th 
Division would have been able to make 
its thrust to St. Lo across the north slope 
of the Marti nville ridge and have been 
shielded from the German fire south of 
the Berigny road. 

General Gerhardt had a formal mes- 
sage prepared to announce the capture 
of St. Lo. At 1830, half an hour after 
Task Force C entered the streets of the 
town, he confidentially released the mes- 
sage to his special services officer in time 
to make that evening's edition of the 
division mimeographed newspaper. "I 
have the honor," the message read, "to 
report to the Corps Commander . . .," 



but before General Gerhardt could pro- 
claim the achievement, General Corlett 
telephoned to inform him that he had 
already heard the news on a radio broad- 
cast. "NBC beat you to it," General 
Corlett announced. B0 

Although St. Lo was taken, it was by 
no means safe. German artillery 
smashed into the town. Surprised and 
embarrassed by the speed with which the 
Americans had taken the city, Hausser 
ordered Meindl to have the 352(1 Divi- 
sion retake the town, but refused 

'"sgth Div G-3 Jnl, 1830, aoa8, 3048, 18 Jul, and 
Msg, 21 00. 18 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl and File; 
FUSA, Spec Sitrep, 0045, 19 Jul. 



174 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Meindl's request for part of the 275th 
Division, which had just arrived from 
Brittany and was in the Seventh Army 
reserve behind Panzer Lehr. The 3$2d 
Division, which had tried to hold the 
Vire bridges by fighting in St. L6 with 
too few men, mounted a counterattack 
but was too weak to expel the Amer- 
icans. Hausser and Meindl both later 
blamed an announcement by the Wehr- 
macht on the afternoon of 1 8 July of the 
withdrawal as the stimulus that had 
caused the final American assault. Actu- 
ally, however, they had been unable to 
secure additional troops and they had 
feared that U.S. forces west of the Vire 
would outflank St L6 from the west; both 
commanders in reality had been forced 
by American pressure to pull the // Para- 
chute Corps back. 61 

To maintain contact and determine 
the extent of the withdrawal, General 
Corlett instructed the 113th Cavalry 
Group to pass through the city. The 
cavalry received such a volume of anti- 
tank, mortar, and artillery fire 500 yards 
south of St. L6 that it became evident 
at once that the Germans had retired 
only to the high ground less than a mile 
to the south. The 552^ Division coun- 
terattack launched that evening con- 
firmed the fact that the enemy had not 
gone far. 62 

The XIX Corps completed its task 

61 Telecon, Hausser to Pemsel, 1950, 18 Jul, Sev- 
enth Army Tel Msgs; Seventh Army KTB (Draft) 
and Tel Msgs, 17 and 18 Jul; Hodgson, R-54. 

62 XIX Corps Memo, 19 Jul, XIX Corps G-3 Jnl 
and File. 



on the morning of 19 July. The 29th 
Division finished clearing the city, and 
the 35th Division reported no active 
enemy troops in its sector. 63 

In capturing St. L6 the divisions had 
sustained the high losses that had be- 
come typical of the battle of the hedge- 
rows. The 35th Division lost over 
2,000 men; the 29th Division suffered 
over 3,000 casualties. On 19 July, in 
compliance with corps instructions, the 
35th Division relieved the 29th, and 
General Baade deployed his troops across 
the entire corps front from the Vire 
River east to the Couvains-Calvaire 
road. 

By the time the men of the 29th Divi- 
sion marched out of St. L6 on 20 July, 
the body of Major Howie had become a 
symbol. Task Force C had carried the 
flag-draped corpse as a battle standard 
into town on a jeep. 64 Placed on a pile 
of rubble before the rather plain 
Romanesque church of Ste. Croix and 
surrounded by empty, gaping houses, the 
body had become a shrine, a universal 
symbol of sacrifice. When the men of 
the division removed the body and de- 
parted the town, the symbol remained 
in St. L6. St. L6 itself, disfigured and 
lifeless, had become a memorial to all 
who had suffered and died in the battle 
of the hedgerows. 



03 35th Div Msg, 1019, 19 Jul, XIX Corps G— 3 
Jnl; Huston, Biography of A Battalion, pp. 23-46. 

64 A legend had also been born. In 1953 a road- 
side sign in St. L6 read: "... This martyred city 
[was] liberated the 26th [sic] of July 1944 by 
Major Howie, killed at the head of his troops. . . ." 



CHAPTER IX 



The Conclusions 



The American Point of View 

The First Army's July offensive came 
to an end on 19 July, the day after the 
capture of St. L6. Despite the fact that 
the operations had moved U.S. troops to 
the southern edge of the Cotentin 
swampland— along the Lessay-Periers- 
St. L6-Caumont line— the results were 
disappointing. 

Heroic exertion seemed, on the sur- 
face, to have accomplished little. With 
twelve divisions, the First Army in sev- 
enteen days had advanced only about 
seven miles in the region west of the 
Vire and little more than half that dis- 
tance east of the river. Not only was 
the distance gained disappointing, the 
newly established Lessay-Caumont line 
was less than satisfactory. The VIII 
Corps physically occupied neither Lessay 
nor Periers; the VII Corps did not actu- 
ally possess the Periers— St. L6 highway; 
and the city of St. L6 remained under 
enemy artillery and mortar fire for more 
than a week after its capture by the XIX 
Corps. 1 

To reach positions along the Lessay- 
Caumont line, the First Army had sus- 
tained approximately 40,000 casualties 



1 The XIX Corps civil affairs detachment could 
not become operational in St. L6 until 29 July, 
and only then did the French civilian administra- 
tion begin again to function. XIX Corps AAR, 
Jul. 



during July, of which 90 percent were 
infantrymen. A rifle company after a 
week of combat often numbered less than 
one hundred men; sometimes it resem- 
bled a reinforced platoon. Casualties 
among infantry officers in the line com- 
panies were particularly high in the 
hedgerow country, where small-unit in- 
itiative and individual leadership figured 
so largely. Of all the infantry company 
officers in one regiment that had entered 
Normandy shortly after D Day, only four 
lieutenants remained by the third week 
in July, and all four by then were com- 
manding rifle companies. 2 

The majority of the casualties were 
caused by shell fragments, involving in 
many cases multiple wounds. 3 Many 
other men suffered combat fatigue. 
Not always counted in the casualty re- 
ports, they nevertheless totaled an addi- 
tional 25 to 33 percent of the number of 
men physically wounded. All the divi- 
sions made informal provision for treat- 
ing combat fatigue cases, usually at the 
regimental collecting stations, and 
several divisional neuropsychiatrists 
established exhaustion centers. Work- 



3 FUSA Daily Estimated Loss Rpts, Jul, KCRC; 
Ruppenthal, Logistical Support, I, 460; 30th Div 
G- 3 Jnl, entries 1615 and 1935, 15 Jul, and 2335, 17 
Jul; VIII Corps IG Ltr, Rpt of Investigation of 
358th Inf Regt, 90th Inf Div, 11 Aug. 

8 The 8th Division, for instance, recorded 2,080 
battle casualties between 8 and 31 July as having 
sustained 3,050 wounds. 8th Div AAR, 8 Jul-4 Aug. 



176 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



ing with improvised facilities and with- 
out personnel specifically assigned for 
this purpose, the doctors returned a 
large percentage of fatigue cases to duty 
after 24 to 72 hours of rest and sedation. 
Patients who did not respond were 
evacuated to one of two First Army com- 
bat exhaustion centers— 2 50-bed hospitals 
eventually expanded to 750 and 1,000 
beds. 4 

"We won the battle of Normandy," 
one survivor later said, "[but] consider- 
ing the high price in American lives, we 
lost." 5 Not a bitter indictment of the 
way warfare was conducted in the hedge- 
rows, the statement revealed instead the 
feeling of despair that touched all who 
participated. Frustration was the clear- 
est impression. The "working day" was 
determined by daylight, usually from 
about 0500 to the final wisp of visibility 
an hour or two before midnight. Pa- 
trol action and preparations for the mor- 
row meant that even the few hours of 
darkness were full of activity. A new 
morning meant little, for little changed 
in the dreary landscape of the Norman 
battleground. 6 

Over a stretch of such days, you became 
so dulled by fatigue that the names of the 
killed and wounded they checked off each 
night, the names of men who had been your 
best friends, might have come out of a 
telephone book for all you knew. All the 
old values were gone, and if there was a 
world beyond this tangle of hedgerows . . . , 
where one barrage could lay out half a 



4 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 95; 
8th Div and XIX Corps AAR's, Jul; CI 84 (29th 
Div) . 

6 Raymond J. Goguen, 329th "Buckshot" Infan- 
try Regiment (Wolsenbuettel, Germany: Ernst 
Fischer, 1945) , p. 36. 

6 Peragimus— "We Accomplish" (n.p., n.d.) a 
brief history of the 358th Infantry; 358th Inf Jnl, 9 
Jul. 



company like a giant's club, you never ex- 
pected to live to see it. 7 

It seemed incredible that only a few 
days and a few miles separated the water- 
filled foxholes from the British pubs, the 
desolate Cotentin from the English coun- 
tryside, the sound of battle from the 
noise of Piccadilly. The hedgerows that 
surrounded the rectangular Norman 
fields seemed to isolate the men from all 
past experience and oppress them with 
the feeling that they were beings inhabit- 
ing another planet. Units separated by 
a single hedgerow were frequently una- 
ware of each other's presence. Each 
small group knew only of its own efforts 
and had but a vague impression that 
other individuals were similarly en- 
gaged. 8 

The transition from training for war 
to the reality of battle was difficult and 
often rapid. Some units incurred cas- 
ualties before they actually entered com- 
bat, as when ships on their way to France 
occasionally struck mines or when long- 
range German guns found a mark. 9 Ar- 
tillery gun crews frequently unloaded 
the ships that had brought them to the 
Continent and proceeded at once, even 
though they were already weary, to sup- 
port an attack. 10 The experience of 
four and a half newly arrived divisions 
underscored the problems of transition. 
In addition to the mistakes made by 
units, many individuals temporarily for- 
got the lessons of basic training and 
failed, for example, to use cover and con- 
cealment properly. After a week of ac- 

'314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat, p. 
'9- 

8 Typewritten MS, Comment on 82d Div Opn, 
82d Abn Div AAR, Jul. 

* Hewitt, Story of 30th Division, p. 16. 

10 See, for example, 174th FA Gp S-3 Rpt, 3 Jul, 
VIII Corps G-3 Jnl and File. 



THE CONCLUSIONS 



177 



tion one tank battalion was "not avail- 
able for any employment whatsoever be- 
cause of losses in personnel," and the 
division to which it was attached used 
instead three 105-mm. self-propelled guns 
and three 81 -mm. mortars mounted on 
half-tracks. The intricate maze of 
sunken roads between matted hedgerows 
emphasized the sense of bewilderment 
that afflicted those new to the terrors of 
combat. It was easy to get lost, and 
some tank crews found it necessary to 
designate a man to act as navigator. Af- 
ter the initial shock, however, the sights 
and sounds of life and death in Nor- 
mandy became familiar. Dulled by fa- 
tigue and habit, the men soon accepted 
their lot as normal. 11 

Behind . . . [the battalions] the engineers 
slammed bulldozers through the obstinate 
hedgerow banks, carving a makeshift supply 
route up to the forward elements, and 
everywhere the medics were drafting litter 
bearers to haul the wounded the long way 
back. 12 

Several features distinguished combat 
in Normandy during July 1944 from 
combat elsewhere. Very soon General 
Eisenhower had concluded that three 
factors were making the battle extremely 
tough: "First, as always, the fighting 
quality of the German soldier; second, 
the nature of the country; third, the 
weather." 13 

The fighting quality of the enemy 
troops encompassed a great range. Rus- 
sians and Poles employed in combination 



11 329th Inf AAR, Jul; 314th Infantry Regiment, 
Through Combat, p. 22; 9th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 
1430, 17 Jul; XIX Corps Ltr, Notes on Combat 
Experience, 5 Jul, VIII Corps G—3 Jnl. 

12 314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat, 
p. 20. 

18 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue Files. 



with Germans formed an "alloy" that 
withstood little pressure despite the ex- 
ceptional leadership of German com- 
missioned and noncommissioned officers. 
Non-Germanic troops, who comprised 
the bulk of the prisoners of war taken 
by the First Army, seemed to be con- 
vinced that Germany could not continue 
the war much longer, and Americans 
wondered when all the Germans would 
come to this realization. But the Ger- 
man troops, as distinguished from the 
Osttruppen, were good. Not invinci- 
ble, the regular Wehrmacht units never- 
theless had "staying power," while SS 
forces and paratroopers were a breed 
apart: "Elite troops, with an unshak- 
able morale, they asked no quarter and 
made certain that they gave none. ..." 14 
The Germans had conducted an active 
defense, mounting local counterattacks 
with local reserves supported by small 
groups of tanks. Well-employed mor- 
tars and machine guns and roving artil- 
lery pieces characterized their stubborn 
delaying tactics. Generally, during the 
early part of the month, the Germans 
seemed reluctant to employ their artil- 
lery in volume, but as the month pro- 
gressed they increasingly used battery 
and battalion volleys to obtain mass and 
concentration on fewer targets. When 
forced to withdraw, the Germans broke 
contact during darkness and covered 
their withdrawal with large numbers of 
automatic weapons in order to delay the 
advance by forcing the Americans to 
commit additional units. By the time 
American attacks made the covering 
force break contact, another covering 
force had set up another delaying posi- 

14 314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat, 
pp. 20-21; Telecon, Corlett and Gerhardt, 1833, 1 
Jul, 29th Div G—3 Jnl. 



178 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



tion, and U.S. troops seemed "unable to 
find the solution to this problem." 15 

American commanders had been alert 
for evidence that would indicate a pene- 
tration of the German defenses. Short- 
lived pursuit had occurred, for example, 
in the VIII Corps sector when the Ger- 
mans withdrew in good order from la 
Haye-du-Puits to the Ay and the Seves 
Rivers. But the only real opportunity 
to exploit a penetration came after the 
bridgehead was established between the 
Taute and the Vire Rivers, and this had 
been muffed. Capture of Hill 192 by 
V Corps forces had also pierced the Ger- 
man defensive line, but the projected 
First Army wheeling maneuver on Cau- 
mont precluded a deep thrust in the 
eastern sector of the First Army line. 
The advance all along the army front 
had been painful. The Germans gave 
way so slowly that the July offensive 
seemed to have failed. The nature of 
the country favored the Germans. The 
marshes of the Cotentin canalized Amer- 
ican attacks into well-defined corridors. 
Soggy ground in large part immobilized 
the mechanized power of U.S. ground 
forces. The hedgerows subdivided the 
terrain into small rectangular compart- 
ments that the Germans had tied to- 
gether to provide mutual support. The 
result was a continuous band of strong- 
points in great depth all across the front. 
Handicapped by lack of observation, by 
the difficulty of maintaining direction, 
and by the limited ability to use all sup- 
porting weapons to maximum advantage, 
the Americans adopted a form of jungle 
or Indian fighting in which the individ- 



15 30th Div G-2 Est 2, 20 Jul (Incl 2 to Intel 
Annex 3) ; VII Corps G-2 Est, 17 Jul; Observations 
of the Div Comdr, 2d Div AAR, Jul. 



ual soldier played a dominant role. 
Units were assigned frontages according 
to specific fields and hedgerows rather 
than by yardage, and distances and in- 
tervals between tactical formations were 
reduced. 16 The battleground reminded 
observers of the tiny battlefields of the 
American Civil War. 

Feeling out each hedgerow for the 
hidden enemy was a tense affair per- 
formed at close range. "Must go for- 
ward slowly, as we are doing," a regi- 
mental commander reported; "take one 
hedgerow at a time and clean it up." 
This was standing operating procedure 
much of the time. At that slow rate, 
often a single hedgerow per day, the 
troops "could see the war lasting for 
twenty years." "Too many hedges" and 
not the enemy was the real deterrent to 
rapid advance. 17 

The weather helped the enemy. The 
amount of cloud, wind, and rain in June 
and July of 1944 was greater than that 
recorded at any time since 1900. It 
nullified Allied air superiority on many 
days. Although the IX Tactical Air 
Command flew over 900 air missions for 
the First Army between 26 June and 24 
July, approximately 50 percent of the 
potential air support could not be em- 
ployed because of adverse weather con- 
ditions. 18 The rain and the sticky, re- 



16 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 
122-23. 

17 30th Div G—3 Jnl, entry 1935, 15 Jul; 2d Battal- 
ion, 329th Infantry, Combat Digest, p. 16; First U.S. 
Army, Report of Operations, I, 86; Sylvan Diary, 29 
Jun. 

18 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 91; 
SHAEF Draft Note for submission to SHAEF 
G-3 for Release to Public Relations, Meteorological 
Forecast for Allied Assault on France, June 1944 
[ 14 Aug] , SHAEF File GCT 000.9/Ops (A) , Mete- 
orological Matters. 



THE CONCLUSIONS 



179 



pulsive mud it produced made the 
ground troops wonder whether they 
would ever be warm and clean and dry 
again. 

Since the depth of the continental 
beachhead was not much greater in July 
than it had been in June, the problem 
of congestion was still acute. Allied 
army and corps headquarters that had 
become available on the Continent could 
not be utilized because of lack of room 
for the troops they would command. 
With a single regiment requiring be- 
tween 14 and 20 miles of road for move- 
ment, traffic flowed at a pedestrian rate, 
often with vehicles bumper to bumper. 
Macadam roads, the best in Normandy, 
were few; the great majority of the roads 
were of gravel. They were all difficult 
to keep in good repair under the wheels 
and tracks of heavy military vehicles. 
In wet weather they were slippery or 
muddy; during the infrequent periods 
of sunshine, they quickly became dusty. 19 

Despite the difficulties of ground trans- 
portation, the actual delivery of supplies 
to the combat forces was generally sat- 
isfactory. Short lines of communica- 
tions, lower consumption rates in gaso- 
line and oil, the absence of the Luftwaffe 
over the combat zone, and the large vol- 
ume of supplies brought over the open 
beaches resulted in a relatively stable 
logistical situation. Artillery ammuni- 
tion expenditure was heavy between 4 
and 15 July, even though control was 

19 8th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 0815, 30 Jul; 1st Div 
G-3 Jnl and File, 15-22 Jul; Annex B to SHAEF/ 
1062/7/GDP, 17 Jun 44, Topography and Com- 
munications, and SHAEF/6876/E, SHAEF Engr 
Div Ltr, Effect of Postponing D-Day for Overlord, 
10 Apr 44, SHAEF File 370.2, Logistic Studies; Talk 
to Directors of QMG's Dept on Visit to Normandy, 
n.d., SGS SHAEF File 381; Stacey, The Canadian 
Army, p. 187. 



being exercised and unrestricted firing 
forbidden. To compensate for the lack 
of observation in Normandy, deeper and 
wider concentrations than normal were 
fired. Although reserve stocks of am- 
munition sometimes dropped to low 
levels on certain types of shells, particu- 
larly for the 105-mm. howitzer, the 
troops were seldom obliged to curtail 
their firing because of shortages. While 
artillery, tank destroyer, and antiaircraft 
personnel replacements were available in 
unnecessarily large quantities, infantry 
replacements, particularly riflemen, were 
in short supply because of the unexpect- 
edly high casualty rates. By the middle 
of the month the deficiency in infantry- 
men became so serious that 25,000 rifle 
replacements were requested from the 
zone of interior by the fastest transporta- 
tion possible. Weapons losses— Brown- 
ing automatic rifles, grenade launchers, 
bazookas, mortars, and light machine 
guns— were also higher than anticipated, 
but replacements arrived through nor- 
mal channels of resupply from stocks in 
England. Also, in combat that meas- 
ured gains in yards rather than in miles, 
many more small-scale maps were 
needed. Air shipments of 1 : 25,000 maps 
from England remedied the deficiency. 20 
Since the Allies needed to expand the 
continental foothold in order to gain 
room for maneuver, airfields, and the 
increasing quantities of troops and sup- 
plies of the build-up, and also to acquire 
ports of entry, the battle of the hedge- 
rows, in geographical terms, was hardly 
successful in either the American zone 
in the Cotentin or the British zone 



20 Ruppenthal, Logistical Support, I, 439, 442, 
461; First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 
93-94; FUSA G-4 Daily Summary Rpt, 11 Jul, 
FUSA G-3 Jnl. 



180 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



around Caen. Space and port facilities 
remained the most serious Allied con- 
cern. Fulfilling the requirement of Op- 
eration Overlord— securing adequate 
lodgment in northwest France—seemed 
a long way off. 

In the third week of July, as the First 
Army regrouped for a new attempt to 
gain the Coutances-Caumont line, there 
was little realization that the July offen- 
sive had achieved results of vital signifi- 
cance. Allied preoccupation with geog- 
raphy and the undiminished German re- 
sistance had combined to obscure the 
fact that in pressing for geographical gain 
the Allies had been fulfilling a precept 
of Clausewitz: destroying the enemy mil- 
itary forces. Allied pressure along a 
broad front had prevented the enemy 
from building strong mobile reserves 
and concentrating them in offensive ac- 
tion against any one point; it had also 
thinned the forces in contact. 21 How 
close the Germans in Normandy had 
been brought to destruction was to be- 
come apparent with surprising clarity 
in the next few weeks of warfare. 

The German Point of View 

To the Germans, even more than to 
the Americans, the July operations had 
been hard. Only the skillful defensive 
tactics in the hedgerow terrain plus the 
pattern of the American offensive had 
averted complete disintegration of the 
German defenses in Normandy. The 
successive nature of the American corps 
attacks had enabled the Germans to shift 
units from one threatened portion of the 
front to another, a course of action per- 
haps impossible had the First Army been 



First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 89. 



able to launch simultaneous attacks all 
across the front. 

The activity of the 2d SS Panzer Di- 
vision, located south of St. L6 and con- 
stituting the entire Seventh Army re- 
serve, exemplified German flexibility. 
The division had on 5 July dispatched 
a kampfgruppe to la Haye-du-Puits and 
a battalion of tanks to St. L6 while the 
main body of troops moved toward 
Periers. The tank battalion near St. 
L6 marched onto the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus on 7 July. Two days 
later a regiment entered the battle be- 
tween the Taute and the Vire. The 
regiment fought there until relieved by 
Panzer Lehr, and then, together with the 
kampfgruppe near la Haye-du-Puits, 
helped the ijth SS Panzer Grenadier Di- 
vision in defense of Periers. 22 

The units rushed to Normandy had 
performed a similar function. By the 
time the 5th Parachute Division arrived 
from Brittany, on 12 July, the 15th Regi- 
ment, which had earlier been detached, 
was already fighting on Mont Castre. 
Seventh Army plans to commit the en- 
tire division in the la Haye-du-Puits sec- 
tor were abandoned when the Panzer 
Lehr attack miscarried, and one of the 
new regiments was immediately com- 
mitted between the Taute and the Vire. 23 

On the other hand, such fragmentary 
commitment led to the dispersal of Ger- 
man units. Goering, whose headquar- 
ters had administrative control of Luft- 
waffe ground forces, soon threatened to 
stop the flow of replacements to the 5th 
Parachute Division if the scattered ele- 
ments were not immediately reassembled 



Seventh Army KTB (Draft) , 5-10 Jul. 
Seventh Army KTB, 12 Jul. 



THE CONCLUSIONS 



181 



and the division used as a unit. 24 The 
2j<jth Division, which had arrived in the 
Cotentin by mid-July, could not be em- 
ployed in toto because one of its regi- 
ments was already battered by the fight- 
ing near la Haye-du-Puits. Thus the 
strength of three divisions— each of 
which, if employed as a powerful uni- 
fied force, might have turned the course 
of the battle in any one sector— had been 
dissipated by the more urgent need to 
hold back the American pressure. 

Plagued by the necessity of commit- 
ting their reserves piecemeal, the Ger- 
mans were also concerned by the decline 
of aggressiveness among their troops. 
The mounting reluctance of armored 
divisions to make a wholehearted effort 
seemed particularly serious. The clas- 
sic example of too little too late, at least 
in Rommel's opinion, had been the Pan- 
zer Lehr attack on 1 1 July. Even in the 
earlier fighting about Caen, there was 
dissatisfaction at the higher command 
echelons with panzer effectiveness. 
Spirit was a vital prerequisite for success, 
and signs that spirit was subsiding on 
the troop level were evident. 25 

The Germans faced shortages in both 
men and munitions, but the latter was 
the more significant. Against an esti- 
mated British expenditure of 80,000 ar- 
tillery rounds around Caen on 10 July, 
the Germans had been able to fire a 
scant 4,500 shells in return. "Although 
our troop morale is good," a German of- 
ficer protested, "we cannot meet the 
enemy materiel with courage alone." 
The Germans could not meet the Allied 



24 Report of Kluge-Jodl Telecon in Zimmerman 
Telecon, 1245, 16 Jul, AGp B KTB. 

25 Report of Rommel's inspection of the front 
(signed Ecksparre) , 16 Jul, AGp B KTB, Anlagen, 
Fall 40-Sep 44. 



rate of fire because their transportation 
network had been systematically bombed 
by Allied planes and sabotaged by the 
French Resistance. Efforts to expedite 
the flow of supplies by increasing the 
use of the Seine River barges failed to 
meet the battlefield demands. 28 

That much needed to be replaced and 
resupplied was obvious from the mate- 
riel losses sustained in Normandy. Be- 
tween 6 June and 9 July, the Germans 
had lost 150 Mark IV tanks, 85 Panthers, 
and 15 Tigers, 167 75-mm. assault and 
antitank guns, and almost 30 88-mm. 
pieces— more than enough to equip an 
entire SS armored division. 27 

Casualty figures were even more de- 
pressing. Between 6 June and 1 1 July 
the losses in the west totaled almost 
2,000 officers and 85,000 men. The 
243d Division had lost over 8,000 men 
in the Cotentin, the 552c/ Division al- 
most 8,000 men in the Cotentin and St. 
L6 sectors, the Ji6th Division more than 
6,000 near Caen. The 12th SS Panzer 
Division, with casualties numbering 
4,485, had seen its infantry components 
reduced to the strength of a single bat- 
talion—one sixth of its authorized 
strength. The 21st Panzer Division had 
taken 3,411 casualties; Panzer Lehr 
3,14c 28 To replace these losses, only 
5,210 replacements, or 6 percent of the 
casualties, had arrived at the front, 
though another 7,500 or 9 percent were 
promised or on the way. By 17 July 
German casualties in Normandy had 
risen to about 100,000, of which 2,360 
were officers. Replacements promised 



28 Conference, Rommel and Gause, 10 Jul, AGp 
B KTB, Anlagen, Fall 40-Sep 44. 

27 OB WEST KTB, 10 Jul. 

28 OB WEST KTB, 12 Jul. 



182 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



to fill the depleted ranks would total 
about 12 percent of the losses. 29 

To Choltitz, who commanded the 
LXXXIV Corps, it seemed that the bat- 
tle of the hedgerows was "a monstrous 
blood-bath," the like of which he had 
not seen in eleven years of war. 30 Yet 
there seemed to be no way of stopping it 
except to commit units arriving from 
quiet sectors in the west to reinforce 
the sagging Normandy defense. The 
suggestion by Eberbach, who com- 
manded Panzer Group West, that it was 
time to close most military specialist 
schools and send the students to the bat- 
tlefield at once bespoke an impending 
bankruptcy of manpower resources. 31 

To Kluge, the OB WEST commander, 
the Normandy front was on the verge 



20 OB WEST KTB, n and 17 Jul. 

30 Telecon, Choltitz to Pemsel, 2350, 15 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Msgs. 

31 Telecon, Eberbach and Rommel, 1225, 11 Jul, 
AGp B KTB. 



of developing into an ungeheures Klad- 
deradatsch—an awful mess— and he won- 
dered whether OKW appreciated "the 
tremendous consumption of forces on 
big battle days." In view of the heavy 
losses, he told Jodl, Hitler's order for 
inflexible defense necessitated an ex- 
penditure of troops the Germans could 
no longer afford. Because Kluge be- 
lieved that the infantry would not hold 
much longer, he wanted tanks, more 
tanks, "to act as corset stays behind the 
troops." He also wanted Hitler to know 
that the Normandy situation was "very 
serious." "If a hole breaks open, I have 
to patch it," he said. "Tell this to Hit- 
ler." 32 

Whether Jodl told Hitler or not, Al- 
lied leaders were conceiving an opera- 
tion that would soon make strikingly 
evident exactly how serious the situation 
in Normandy actually was. 

32 Telecon, Kluge and Jodl, 1828, 13 Jul, OB 
WEST KTB, Anlage 61$. 



PART THREE 
BREAKTHROUGH 



CHAPTER X 



The Breakthrough Idea 



In Search of a Panacea 

The dramatic divergence between the 
phase lines projected by the Overlord 
plan for certain dates and the actual ex- 
tent of the Overlord beachhead on those 
dates led to inevitable discussion in the 
Allied camp on how to dissolve the ap- 
parent stalemate. 1 Having considered 
even before the invasion the possibility 
that the Germans might contain the 
Overlord forces, SHAEF planners had 
formulated various proposals on how to 
break out of a stabilized front. In mid- 
July ideas of this nature became ex- 
tremely pertinent. Attaining maneuver 
room and the Breton ports remained ob- 
jectives as valid as they were elusive. 

An obvious solution for dissolving the 
stalemate was to launch a subsidiary am- 
phibious operation outside the Overlord 
beachhead area either by seaborne or 
by air-transported troops. Yet neither 
impressed the planners with prospects 
of success. If the original Overlord 
assault failed to achieve the desired re- 
sults, how could a smaller force— four 
divisions was the maximum force im- 



1 Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 397. Maps 
showing the planned phase lines for certain dates 
and the actual beachhead established are to be 
found on pages 358 and 391. General Bradley was 
not in favor of dating phase lines, a British cus- 
tom. Interv by author with Gen Collins, Washing- 
ton. 30 Mar 56. 



mediately available— do better? 2 The 
necessity of heavy naval involvement 
(including the use of carriers), difficult 
and long naval approaches, strong coastal 
defenses, and the improbability of 
achieving tactical surprise also discour- 
aged recommendations for amphibious 
assaults outside the Overlord beach- 
head. 3 

The same was true of plans for air- 
borne operations to dissolve an Over- 
lord stalemate. The airborne divisions, 
committed on the Continent in June, 
had been delayed in their return to the 
United Kingdom, and their dispersed 
locations there, which made unit train- 
ing difficult, plus a lack of suitable train- 
ing areas, hindered preparations for im- 
mediate commitment. The demands 
on troop carrier units for air supply pre- 
vented effective troop carrier exercises. 
The need at the end of July to divert 
almost 400 transport aircraft to the Med- 
iterranean for the invasion of southern 
France (scheduled for 15 August) made 
a large-scale airborne operation in sup- 
port of Overlord impossible before late 
August or early September. Finally, 
airborne troops dropped outside a sta- 



2 SHAEF/17100/40/Ops (Third Draft), Strategic 
Reserves for Overlord, 17 May 44, SHAEF Air 
Staff File. 

3 PS SHAEF (44), 21 (Final), 10 Jun 44, Nep- 
tune, Stabilization of the Neptune Area, and App. 
A, SGS SHAEF File 381, Post-OvERLORD Ping. 



186 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



bilized beachhead might possibly require 
amphibious reinforcement. 4 

Despite the disadvantages and difficul- 
ties of amphibious and airborne opera- 
tions in support of Overlord, Allied 
planners in June and July continued to 
explore the possibilities because no 
other solution was discernible. Since 
the basic planning already completed for 
future Allied operations beyond the 
Overlord lodgment area assumed Al- 
lied possession of the Breton ports, the 
planners of subsidiary operations to 
break the stalemate invariably looked 
toward Brittany. 5 Of four major com- 
bat plans considered by the U.S. ist 
Army Group, three focused on Brittany 
as the target area. 8 Invasion of Brit- 
tany was also the central theme of the 
U.S. Third Army planning in June and 
July. 7 General Eisenhower gave im- 



* James A. Huston, Airborne Operations, OCMH 
MS, p. 278; Memo, Eisenhower for Smith, 6 Jul, 
SHAEF G-3 File 24533/Ops, Future Opns. 

5 See, for example, PS SHAEF (44) 11, Post- 
Neptune Courses of Action After Capture of 
Lodgment Area, 3 May 44, SGS SHAEF File 381, 
Post-OVERLORD Ping; SHAEF Msgs to AGWAR for 
JPS, 22 Jun, 3, 13, 20, and 27 Jul, SHAEF G-3 
File 381-2, 17264/1, SHAEF Weekly Ping Cables; 
SHAEF/ 17409/Ops, Status of Ping, 21 AGp, 16 
Jun, SHAEF File GCT/322-17/OPS (A), 21 AGp, 
Gen; PS SHAEF (44) 20, SHAEF G-3 Div, Outline 
Plan for Air Landing Opn in the Brittany 
Peninsula, 13, 16, and 19 Jul, and AEAF/T3.22536/ 
Air, Final Draft, App. B, both in SHAEF G-3 File 
24533/Ops, Future Opns; AEAF, Airborne Opns 
to Further 'Overlord/ 6 Jul, and SHAEF/24500/3/ 
Ops, 14 Jul, both in SGS SHAEF File 373/2, Em- 
ployment of Airborne Forces in Opn Overlord; 
Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 124. 

6 Lucky Strike: to exploit eastward in Nor- 
mandy; Swordhilt: to secure port facilities in 
Brittany; Beneficiary: to seize the Breton port of 
St. Malo; Hands Up: to seize the Quiberon Bay 
area in Brittany with airborne troops and Ranger/ 
Commando forces, assisted by the FFI. 12th AGp 
Rpt of Opns, V, 11. 

7 TUSA AAR, I, Chs. 1 and 2. 



petus to this planning by indicating his 
specific interest in airborne and amphib- 
ious operations "involving every likely 
objective" in Brittany. 8 Yet all the pro- 
posed operations seemed to present haz- 
ards incommensurate with potential 
gains. 9 

The search for a panacea to relieve 
the stalemate came to an end soon after 
21 Army Group planners began to press 
Allied naval sections for definite amphib- 
ious assault plans against Quiberon Bay 
and Brest. Because Quiberon and Brest 
were Breton ports vital to the American 
build-up, the U.S. ist Army Group 
raised few objections to the British pres- 
sure. Admiral Sir Bertram H. Ramsay, 
the Allied naval commander, thus found 
himself obliged to consider operations 
he was unwilling to recommend because 
formidable enemy coastal defenses and 
the presence of German U-boat bases 
would subject naval vessels to unaccept- 
able risk. Ramsay reminded Eisen- 
hower that, before the invasion, ground 
commanders had rejected the idea of 
subsidiary airborne operations because 
they might weaken the main Overlord 
effort. Amphibious operations, he sug- 
gested, might have the same result. Ac- 
cepting the implicit recommendation, 
General Eisenhower decided, "The prin- 
cipal pressure is to be kept on buildup 
in the beachhead, with sideshow excur- 
sions to be held down to those which 
will show profit with small invest- 
ment." 10 It was already apparent that 



8 Memo, Eisenhower for Smith, 6 Jul, SGS 
SHAEF G-3 File 24533/Ops, Future Opns. 

8 SHAEF G-3 Div Ltr, Opn in Brittany, 29 Jun, 
SHAEF G-3 File 24533/Ops, Future Opns; Rup- 
penthal, Logistical Support, I, 468. 

10 Butcher Diary, 1 1 Jul; Huston, Airborne Opns, 
pp. 198-99. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 



187 



no sideshow investment promised a rea- 
sonable profit. 

Although planning for subsidiary op- 
erations did not cease, two events indi- 
cated that a final decision had been made 
against them: the movement of a divi- 
sion from England to the Continent and 
the publication of a new plan of action. 
The 28th Division, trained for amphib- 
ious operations and originally scheduled 
for the Overlord assault, had remained 
in England in SHAEF reserve, ready to 
execute a subsidiary amphibious opera- 
tion if necessary. The only amphib- 
iously trained force still uncommitted 
twenty days after the invasion, the 28th 
Division was released by SHAEF to the 
1st U.S. Army Group on 26 June with 
the condition that it be used only in an 
amphibious assault. On 13 July SHAEF 
withdrew the restriction, and ten days 
later the division moved to the Conti- 
nent to augment the land forces already 
committed. 11 

The release of the 28th Division co- 
incided with the appearance of a new 
operational plan presented by General 
Bradley and enthusiastically received by 
General Eisenhower. Bradley proposed 
to break out of the German containment 
and obtain maneuver room and eventu- 
ally the Breton ports through a ground 
offensive supported by massive air power. 
A project that would concentrate on the 
main Overlord operation, Bradley's 
plan followed the advice of SHAEF 



11 SHAEF/ 17100/44/Ops, Strategic Reserves for 
Overlord, 6 Jun, and SHAEF/17100/44/Ops (A), 
SHAEF G-3 Div, Release of 28th Inf Div, 26 Jun 
and 13 Jul, both in SHAEF File GCT 322-12/Ops 
(A) , SHAEF Reserve; Ruppenthal, Logistical Sup- 
port, I, 457. 



planners, who had concluded long before 
that the best way to break a stalemate 
was by marshaling air power in support 
of a land offensive mounted from within 
the stabilized beachhead. 12 

Having searched for a new idea since 
the second week in July, when the First 
Army had begun to display definite signs 
of bogging down in the Cotentin, Gen- 
eral Bradley had begun to envision an 
operation that combined concentrated 
land power and an overwhelming bom- 
bardment from the air. By 1 1 July 
General Bradley had conceived the idea; 
two days later the idea became the First 
Army's plan. It was called Cobra. 13 

The outstanding feature of Cobra 
(a name eventually applied to the oper- 
ation as well as the plan) was the use of 
a heavy air bombardment to destroy an 
enemy defensive position of tactical sig- 
nificance. An unusual employment of 
air power, it was not novel. General 
Montgomery had used heavy bombers 
on 7 July in his attack against Caen. 
Although the bombardment had helped 
the British gain several miles of ground 
and part of Caen, the results of the at- 
tack had not been particularly spectac- 
ular or sufficiently decisive to warrant 
the expectation that a similar operation, 
such as Cobra, might achieve more than 
a limited advance. 

That Cobra stirred hope of more than 
a limited advance— indeed, of a dissolu- 
tion of the stabilized condition of Over- 
lord— was attributable to the planners' 
belief that they could eliminate two fac- 



12 PS SHAEF (44) 21 (Final), 10 Jun, Neptune, 
Stabilization of the Neptune Area, SGS SHAEF File 

381, PoSt-OvERLORD Ping. 

13 FUSA Outline Plan Opn Cobra, 13 Jul. 



188 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




General Dempsey 



tors that had hampered the Caen opera- 
tion: the obstructions that bomb craters 
and debris had placed in the path of 
ground troops and the long time inter- 
val between the air bombardment and 
the ground jump-off. 

Optimistically assessed, if Cobra could 
co-ordinate the blast effect of a heavy air 
bombardment with an overwhelming 
ground attack, the Americans might 
smash the German ring of containment, 
Even if Cobra achieved only limited 
success, the ground gained would give 
the Allies additional maneuver room. 
The operation seemed worth a trial. 
It at least offered a prospect of relief 
from the painful type of advance that 
characterized the battle of the hedge- 
rows. 



In Search of a Breakthrough: 
GOODWOOD 



As a hush fell over the American front 
after the capture of St. L6, intense ac- 
tivity began in the British sector. The 
Second Army launched a strong attack 
(Goodwood) that promised the Allies 
an excellent chance of achieving a break- 
through. Had it succeeded, Cobra 
would probably have been unnecessary. 

Goodwood had grown indirectly out 
of the situation on the American front. 
At a conference on 10 July General 
Bradley had admitted to General Mont- 
gomery that he was discouraged about 
the offensive in the Cotentin and that 
he was thinking of the new Cobra idea, 
not yet completely formulated. Gen- 
eral Montgomery had advised him to 
"take all the time he needed" in the 
Cotentin. To assist, the British would 
continue the basic Montgomery pattern 
of action: attempt to draw the German 
strength away from the American sector, 
hold the eastern part of the front firmly, 
keep the enemy forces opposite the Brit- 
ish engaged and off balance by limited 
objective attacks. Immediately after 
the conference General Dempsey, the 
commander of the Second British Army, 
suggested that the British might take a 
more positive role in the campaign and 
launch a strong attack of their own. 
Montgomery's first reaction was nega- 
tive, but on reflection he ordered plan- 
ning started that same day. He alerted 
Dempsey to hold a corps of three ar- 
mored divisions in reserve for a "massive 
stroke" east of the Orne River from 
Caen to Falaise. By i 3 July three ar- 



THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 



189 



mored divisions were ready under con- 
trol of the British 8 Corps." 

Loath to abandon the idea that the 
eastern Hank was "a bastion" on which 
not only the U.S. main effort but also 
the whole future of the European cam- 
paign depended, General Montgomery 
directed Dempsey to maintain balance 
and a firm base by continuing to exert 
pressure and destroying German equip 
ment and personnel. 15 Nevertheless, 
Montgomery found the idea of a British 
breakthrough attempt increasingly in- 
triguing. He began to think in terms 
of possibly making a double break- 
through effort— attacks by both British 
and American troops. By launching 
Goodwood, the British would throw a 
left hook at the Germans; by following 
quickly with Cobra, the Americans 
would strike with a right cross. 
Whether the primary intention of Goon 
wood was to aid Cobra by forcing the 
Germans to engage their mobile re- 
serves and the secondary intention to 
achieve a breakthrough, or whether the 
reverse was true— though perhaps unim- 
portant in the final analysis and perhaps 
even unknown to General Montgomery 
at the time—later became a matter of 
doubt and controversy. 18 



" ii AGp Dir. M-gio, 10 Jul; Pogue Intcrv with 
Gen Bradley, Washington. 14 Oct 46. Pogue Files; 
"The Aims of Operation 'Goodwood,' " a draft 
extract from B. H. Liddell Harl. The Tanks (a 
history of the Royal l ank Regiment and its pred- 
ecessors, parts of which have appeared in The 
Tank, the journal of the Royal Tank Regiment). 

'•»! AGp CinC Notes, 15 Jul. Pogue Files. 

"■ Dcpt of the Scientific Adviser to the Army 
Council. Mil Operational Research Unit, Rpt 23, 
Battle Study Opn Goodwood, Oct 46; Pogue lnterv 
with Gen Bradley. Washington. 14 Oct 46, and 
Ltrs. Montgomery to Eisenhower. ia and '3 Jul. 
Pogue Files: Montgomery. Normandy to lite Hah 



Like Cobra, Goodwood was to have 
heavy air support. Because the air 
forces could not support the two attacks 
simultaneously in the strength desired, 
Goodwood and Cobra were to take 
place two days apart. Though General 
Bradley had originally set 18 July as 
the Cobra target date, the slow advance 
in the Cotentin caused him to postpone 
it one day. General Montgomery se- 
lected 17 lot Goodwood, hui .id- 
verse weather conditions and the need 
for extensive regrouping forced a delay. 
As finally decided, Goodwood was to 
take place on 18 July, Cobra three days 
later. 

The two major deficiencies of the air 
bombardment launched earlier at Caen 
were to be corrected for Goodwood. 
Only fighter- bombers were to attack in 
the zone where armored divisions were 
to make the main effort, and thus the 
extensive cratering that had slowed 
armor at Caen would be avoided. The 
ground troops were to attack immedi- 
ately after the air strike in order to cap- 
italize on the paralyzing effect of the 
bombardment on the Germans. 

The ground attack was to involve 
three corps. On the left (east), from a 
small bridgehead east of the Orne and 
northeast of Caen, the 8 Corps was to 
send three armored divisions in the di- 
rection of Falaise in the main effort. In 
the center, the Canadian 2d Corps was 
to secure the southern half of Caen (that 
part of the city beyond the Orne River) 
and nearby high ground. The British 
tz Corps on the right was to launch pre- 
liminary attacks several days ahead of 

tic, p. 130; Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 343: Liddell 
Harl, The Tanks, "The Aims of Operation 'Good- 
wood.' " 



190 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




MAP 9 



fi Tempi* 



the actual Goodwood effort to create a 
diversion. The immediate objective o£ 
Goodwood was the plain southeast of 
Caen, rolling terrain rising toward Fa- 
laise. Though neither Montgomery nor 
Dempsey mentioned Falaise specifically 
in their orders, they and other com- 
manders were thinking of Falaise and 
even of Argentan as objectives perhaps 
quickly attainable if the battle developed 
favorably.' 7 (Map 9) 

Promising General Eisenhower that 

"Lidiiell Han, The Tanks. "The Aims of 
Operation 'Goodwood' "; RpL 23, Battle Study 
Opn Goodwood. 



his "whole eastern flank" would "burst 
into flames," General Montgomery re- 
quested the "whole weight of air power" 
to bring about a "decisive" victory. 
General Eisenhower was enthusiastic, 
"pepped up concerning the promise of 
this plan," which he termed a brilliant 
stroke calculated to knock loose the 
shackles that bound the Allies in Nor- 
mandy. Air Ghief Marshal Tedder as- 
sured Montgomery that the air forces 
would be "full out" to support the "far- 
reaching and decisive plan." 18 

"Ltrs, Montgomery to Eisenhower, 12 and 13 
Jul. Montgomery to 'Tedder, 14 Jul, Eisenhower 



THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 



191 



While British naval units fired from 
the Seine Bay in support, bombers in 
the largest concentration yet utilized in 
direct support of a single ground attack 
loosed their explosives near Caen at day- 
light, 18 July. Almost 1,700 planes of 
the RAF Bomber Command and the 
U.S. Eighth Air Force, plus almost 400 
medium and fighter-bombers of the U.S. 
Ninth Air Force, dropped more than 
8,000 tons of bombs to open a path for 
British ground forces. 19 

Before the bombers came, a quiet had 
pervaded most of the Panzer Group West 
front since 9 July. Under the control 
of four corps, eight divisions had manned 
the 70-mile defensive line, and five di- 
visions had been in reserve. Of the 
thirteen divisions that comprised Panzer 
Group West, a single division had held 
twenty miles of marshy coast land on 
the east flank; two divisions had guarded 
fifteen miles of bocage on the west flank; 
and ten divisions— five in the line and 
five in reserve— had covered the critical 
Caen sector of about thirty-five miles in 
the center. 

To protect the open country around 
Caen, Eberbach, the commander of Pan- 
zer Group West, had established a zone 
defense composed of infantry positions 
echeloned in depth and covered by an- 
titank fire. The main battle positions, 



to Montgomery, 13 Jul, Pogue Files; Ltr, Tedder 
to Montgomery, 13 Jul, SGS SHAEF File 381, 
Overlord, I (a) . 

19 Leigh-Mallory, Despatch, Fourth Supplement 
to the London Gazette of December 31, 1946, pp. 
64-65; Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 
130-31; FUSA Sitrep 86, 19 Jul; Harris, Bomber 
Offensive, p. 212; [Ackerman], Employment of 
Strategic Bombers in a Tactical Role, 1941-1951, 
p. 87; Battle Study Opn Goodwood. The figures on 
the number of tons of bombs dropped differ slightly 
from source to source. 



about 1,200 yards deep, consisted of 
three lines, while local reserves had or- 
ganized another defensive line about a 
mile to the rear. Dual-purpose 88-mm. 
guns of the /// Flak Corps, ample artil- 
lery pieces, and a rocket launcher bri- 
gade in each corps sector supported the 
infantry positions. Behind the support 
weapons, four of the reserve divisions 
had been assembled from two to seven 
miles in the rear; the fifth reserve divi- 
sion, the 12th SS Panzer, was undergo- 
ing rehabilitation farther to the rear. 20 

Principally from prisoner of war inter- 
rogations, Eberbach had learned that 
Montgomery was planning a three- 
pronged attack from Caen. 21 Accept- 
ing Eberbach's expectation as valid and 
respecting Montgomery's large number 
of divisions in reserve, Kluge had dared 
not weaken the Panzer Group West de- 
fenses. No further withdrawal from 
the Caen region seemed possible with- 
out inviting disaster. 

Although Kluge had not wished to 
disturb Eberbach's zone defense around 
Caen, Hitler was not so reluctant. Signs 
and portents, the Allied deception plan, 
and weather conditions had convinced 
the Fuehrer that the Allies were about 
to make another continental landing 
near the Seine Bay. The presence of 
Allied vessels to support Goodwood by 
naval fire added to the conviction. De- 
spite agreement by Kluge and Rommel 
that they had not seen anything to jus- 
tify suspicion of another Allied landing 
and despite their "discomfort" with the 
Coutances-St. L6 sector, they were forced 



20 James B. Hodgson, The Eve of Defeat, OCMH 
MS R-57. 

21 Telecon, Kluge and Eberbach, 2158, 17 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB Anlage 694. 



192 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



by Hitler's thinking to consider sending 
a panzer division from the Caen front 
to Lisieux, not far from the Seine Bay. 22 

Before actually dispatching a division 
toward the Seine Bay, Kluge protested 
to higher headquarters. He asked Gen- 
eral der Artillerie Walter Warlimont, 
Jodl's assistant, what made Hitler insist 
on sending mobile troops to Lisieux. 

"The expectation that in the next 
couple of days, because of weather con- 
ditions . . . ," Warlimont began. 

"Oh, the usual reports," Kluge inter- 
rupted. 

". . . another landing can be made 
that will put pressure on the weakly 
held coastal front," Warlimont con- 
cluded. 

Well, Kluge said, he felt that the Al- 
lies were more dangerous in the area 
where they already were. "We aren't 
strong enough there," he said. And 
since he did not have enough troops to 
cover adequately his entire area of re- 
sponsibility, he preferred to take his 
chances where the Allies had not yet ap- 
peared. Thus, as to sending troops to 
Lisieux, he told Warlimont, "I don't 
like what you say." 

"I'll transmit your opinion to the 
Fuehrer," Warlimont suggested. 

"Never mind," Kluge said hastily. 
"You don't have to tell him anything 
more. I just wanted to talk it over 
with you." Still trying to make it clear 
to Warlimont that he wasn't pleased by 
the shift at all, he nevertheless agreed 
to move the 12th SS Panzer Division to 
Lisieux. 23 The weakest division in the 



"Telecon, Kluge and Speidel, 1645, 16 Jul, OB 
WEST KTB Anlagen 667, 668, and 671. 

23 Telecon, Kluge and Warlimont, 1708, 16 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 669. 



Panzer Group West sector, the 12th SS 
Panzer Division had started to move to 
Lisieux when recalled to meet the threat 
of Goodwood. 

The SS armored division was recalled 
partly because Eberbach no longer had 
a strong reserve. Since the night of 15 
July, the British had attacked on the 12 
Corps front using flame-throwing tanks 
and artificial moonlight, which was 
created by pointing searchlights at the 
overcast sky. The limited objective at- 
tacks, designed to mask the main effort 
to be launched on 18 July, forced the // 
SS Panzer Corps and part of the XLVII 
Panzer Corps to pull back slightly. Not 
only did the corps have to commit their 
local reserves, Eberbach had to commit 
two of his reserve divisions. If the 12th 
SS Panzer Division completed the move 
to Lisieux, Eberbach would have only 
two divisions left in reserve. 24 

On the British side, the 8 Corps of the 
Second British Army, eventually employ- 
ing three armored divisions, closely fol- 
lowed the air bombardment of 18 July 
and advanced over three miles in little 
more than an hour. Tactical surprise 
and the effect of the bombardment were 
responsible. Eberbach had not ex- 
pected Montgomery, who had a reputa- 
tion for caution, to make a major at- 
tack out of the narrow bridgehead he 
possessed east of the Orne. Even after 
the attack got under way, Eberbach 
could not really believe that it was the 
British main effort. Montgomery had 
achieved surprise by moving his assault 
divisions across the Orne only a few 
hours before the jump-off. With Ger- 
man troops destroyed or dazed by the 



24 Hodgson, R-57. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 



193 



bombardment, the divisions manning de- 
fensive positions in the bombed corridor 
were momentarily paralyzed. Despite 
valiant efforts to reorganize, they were 
unable to offer real resistance to the Brit- 
ish armored attack. 

From about 0900 to noon, the 8 Corps 
was on the verge of achieving a clean 
penetration. Only when the British hit 
the enemy's antitank and flak guns on 
the last defensive line was the advance 
halted. The heavy antitank screen and 
the efforts of individual German gun 
crews and bazooka teams contributed 
greatly to delaying an immediate ex- 
ploitation of the potential breakthrough. 
More important perhaps, the congested 
battlefield prevented rapid British ma- 
neuver, restricted approaches through 
British mine fields hindered follow-up 
forces, and subordinate commanders 
were hesitant to bypass defended vil- 
lages. 

Recovering from the surprise by noon, 
Eberbach mobilized and committed four 
tank battalions and four infantry bat- 
talions of the 1st SS and 21st Panzer Di- 
visions in a counterattack, which dis- 
pelled British hope of further immediate 
penetration. 25 Despite Eberbach's abil- 
ity to block a clean penetration, his 
counterattack failed to regain the lost 
ground, primarily because German tanks 
moving forward to counterattack "sank 
into a field of craters and had to be 
pulled out by tractors." With all of 
Eberbach's forces committed and with 
the 12th SS Panzer Division, which had 



25 Hodgson, R-57; Rpt 23, Battle Study Opn 
Goodwood; Telecon, Kluge and Blumentritt, 2340, 
18 Jul, OB WEST KTB, Anlage 725; B. H. Liddell 
Hart, Strategy, the Indirect Approach (New York: 
Frederick A. Praeger, 1954) , p. 316. 



turned back from Lisieux, hardly suf- 
ficient to affect the situation, Kluge re- 
quested and received permission to bring 
the 116th Panzer Division from the Fif- 
teenth Army sector across the Seine 
River. "We have to get tanks," Kluge 
insisted. "We have to let higher head- 
quarters know without misunderstand- 
ing that we must have more tanks." 26 

Though the British had lost 270 tanks 
and 1,500 men on the first day of attack, 
Goodwood continued on 19 July as the 
British endeavored to extend their gains 
by limited local attacks. Resistance 
continued strong, and the British that 
day lost 131 tanks and incurred 1,100 
casualties. Further attempts to advance 
on 20 July, at a cost of 68 tanks and 
1,000 casualties, resulted in little prog- 
ress. When a heavy thunderstorm on 
the afternoon of 20 July turned the 
countryside into a quagmire, Goodwood 
came to an end. An ineffective Ger- 
man counterattack on 21 July signaled 
the close of the operation. 

During the four-day attack, 8 Corps 
had secured thirty-four square miles of 
ground and the Canadian 2d Corps had 
captured the remainder of the city of 
Caen and part of the plain immediately 
to the southeast. The 8 Corps lost 500 
tanks and over 4,000 men; tank losses 
in the entire operation totaled 36 per- 
cent of all British tanks on the Conti- 
nent. Although territorial gains were 
small, particularly when compared with 
losses and with the expenditure of the 
air bombardment, Montgomery's attack 
by 20 July had exhausted Eberbach's 



28 Telecons, Kluge and Blumentritt, between 
2350, 18 Jul, and 0055, 19 Jul, OB WEST KTB, 
Anlagen 725 and 72/?. 



194 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



reserves. Eberbach had to resort to 
small task forces detached from armored 
and infantry divisions to operate under 
the direct control of Panzer Group West 
as "fire-fighting forces." 27 

At a conference with subordinate com- 
manders on 20 July, Kluge reviewed the 
battle. There was no recrimination, for 
the troops had fought well. "We will 
hold," Kluge promised as he attempted 
to inspire his subordinate leaders, "and 
if no miracle weapons can be found to 
improve our basic situation, then we'll 
just die like men on the battlefield." 28 

While the Germans, despite discour- 
agement, were content that they had 
fought as well as they could, the Allies 
were far from happy. General Eisen- 
hower had expected a drive across the 
Orne from Caen and an exploitation to- 
ward the Seine Basin and Paris. 29 
Montgomery had been more cautious in 
his anticipations. On the afternoon of 
18 July, the first day of the attack, Gen- 
eral Montgomery had been "very well 
satisfied" to have caught the enemy off 
balance. The effect of the air support 
seemed "decisive." The Second British 
Army had three armored divisions oper- 
ating in the open country southeast of 
Caen, and armored cars and tanks, he 
thought, were threatening Falaise. 30 
Two days later, Montgomery judged 



27 Hodgson, R-57; Rpt 23, Battle Study Opn 
Goodwood; FUSA Sitrep 86, 19 Jul; Brereton, 
Diaries, p. 310. 

28 Tempelhoff Conf Min, 21 Jul, AGp B Op. 
Befehle, pp. 169-78; Meyer-Detring Conf Min, 22 
Jul, OB WEST KTB, Anlagen 1c Anlageband IV, 
Annex 25; Rothberg Conf Min, n.d., Pz Gp W 
KTB, Anlagen, Annex 165. 

29 See Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, pp. 243ft. 

30 Ltr, Montgomery to Eisenhower, 18 Jul, M-60, 
Pogue Files. 



that the purpose of the attack had been 
accomplished. The 8 Corps had ad- 
vanced nearly six miles and taken 2,000 
prisoners, all of Caen had been secured, 
and the Orne bridgehead had been more 
than doubled in size. General Mont- 
gomery on 20 July instructed General 
Dempsey to withdraw his armored troops 
into reserve and replace them with in- 
fantry. 31 

To those in the Allied camp who had 
expected a decisive breakthrough and 
exploitation, expressions of satisfaction 
seemed hollow. A profound disappoint- 
ment swept through the high levels of 
command. At SHAEF there was much 
feeling that the 2 1 Army Group and the 
Second British Army had not pushed as 
hard as they might have. "The slow- 
ness of the battle, . . . [and] inward but 
generally unspoken criticism of Monty 
for being so cautious" brought unusual 
gloom to General Eisenhower's features. 
Impatient critics pointed out that Mont- 
gomery had gained less than a mile for 
each ton of high explosives dropped 
from the planes. Gossips speculated on 
"who would succeed Monty if sacked." 32 

Later, General Montgomery attempted 
to explain the reason why "a number 
of misunderstandings" had arisen. He 
had been concerned on his eastern flank, 
he stated, only with "a battle for posi- 
tion," a preliminary operation designed 
to aid the projected American attack, 
Operation Cobra. Being a major op- 
eration, although important only as a 



31 Rpt 23, Battle Study Opn Goodwood; FUSA 
Sitreps 85 and 89, 18 and 20 Jul; Montgomery, 
Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 130-33. 

32 Butcher Diary, 19 and 20 Jul; Liddell Hart. 
The Tanks, "The Aims of Operation 'Goodwood.' " 
The Pogue Files, OCMH, offer abundant evidence 
of the widespread disappointment and discontent. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH IDEA 



195 



preliminary, Operation Goodwood had 
suggested "wider implications than in 
fact it had." 33 

Apologists could claim that there had 
been no thought of a breakthrough at 
the 2 i Army Group headquarters, merely 
hope of a threat toward Falaise to keep 
the enemy occupied. Critics could 
claim that Montgomery had tried for a 
breakthrough with one hand while with 
the other he had kept the record clear 
in case he did not succeed. Although 
General Montgomery had in fact re- 
ferred in July 1944 to Goodwood and to 
Cobra as parts of an over-all break- 
through plan, he had also, perhaps inad- 
vertently, or perhaps to insure all-out 
air support, promised that his eastern 
flank would "burst into flames" and 
that he would secure a "decisive" vic- 
tory there. 34 Eisenhower had inter- 
preted Montgomery's intentions for the 
8 Corps armored attack as a promise of 
a plunge into the vitals of the enemy. 
"I would not be at all surprised," Gen- 
eral Eisenhower had written Montgom- 
ery, "to see you gaining a victory that 
will make some of the 'old classics' look 
like a skirmish between patrols." 35 
When the British attack failed to achieve 
a spectacular breakthrough, disappoint- 
ment was natural. 

Disappointment led General Eisen- 
hower to write Montgomery on 21 July 
to question whether they saw "eye to 
eye on the big problems." He reiterated 

33 Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 127- 
30; see also Wilmot, Struggle for Europe, pp. 353- 
54, 361-62. 

3< Ltrs, Montgomery to Eisenhower and Tedder, 
12, 13, 14, and 18 Jul, cited above, n. 18 and n. 
30; Liddell Hart, The Tanks, "The Aims of Opera- 
tion 'Goodwood.' " 

35 Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 13 Jul, cited 
above, n. 18. 



that the Allied needs were the Breton 
ports; increased space for maneuver, ad- 
ministration, and airfields; and the de- 
struction of German military forces. He 
remarked that he had been "extremely 
hopeful and optimistic" that Goodwood, 
"assisted by tremendous air attack," 
would have a decisive effect on the bat- 
tle of Normandy. "That did not come 
about," he wrote, and as a result, he was 
"pinning our immediate hopes on Brad- 
ley's attack." Nevertheless, because the 
recent advances near Caen had partially 
eliminated the necessity for a defensive 
attitude, and because the Allies had suf- 
ficient strength and supplies to support 
major assaults by both British and 
American armies, he urged General 
Montgomery to have Dempsey's army 
launch an offensive at the same time that 
Cobra began. Eventually, he reminded 
Montgomery, the U.S. ground strength 
would be greater than that of the Brit- 
ish, but "while we have equality in size 
we must go forward shoulder to shoul- 
der, with honors and sacrifices equally 
shared." 36 

On that day General Montgomery was 
instructing General Dempsey to continue 
operations "intensively" with infantry 
to make the enemy believe that the Al- 
lies were contemplating a major advance 
toward Falaise and Argentan. 37 Refer- 
ring to these instructions, General Mont- 
gomery told the supreme commander 
that he had no intention of stopping of- 
fensive operations on the east flank. 
Nevertheless, as a result of General Ei- 
senhower's letter, Montgomery gave 
Dempsey more specific instructions to 

30 Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 21 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 

37 21 AGp Dir, 21 Jul, M-512, 12th AGp File 
371.3, Mil Objectives. 



196 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



supplement the rather general provisions 
of his original directive and thereby 
"fattened up" the attack on the east 
flank designed to supplement the Ameri- 
can effort in the west. 38 

Reassured, General Eisenhower wrote, 
"We are apparently in complete agree- 
ment in conviction that vigorous and 
persistent offensive effort should be sus- 
tained by both First and Second Ar- 

38 Ltr, Montgomery to Eisenhower, M-65, 22 Jul, 
Pogue Files; Butcher Diary, 25 Jul. 



mies." 39 But again, as in June when 
the U.S. First Army had driven toward 
Cherbourg, and as at the beginning of 
July when the Americans had com- 
menced their offensive toward the 
south, the Allies, and particularly Gen- 
eral Eisenhower, had their immediate 
hopes pinned on General Bradley's at- 
tack. 



38 Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 23 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 



CHAPTER XI 

Cobra Preparations 



The perspective within which Opera- 
tion Cobra was conceived was essentially 
the same as had bounded General Brad- 
ley's July offensive. The objectives re- 
mained unchanged: Brittany was the 
eventual goal, the first step toward it the 
Coutances— Caumont line. 

According to General Montgomery's 
instructions of the end of June, repeated 
in July, the First U.S. Army was to pivot 
on its left at Caumont and make a wide 
sweep to a north-south line from Cau- 
mont to Fougeres so that U.S. troops 
would eventually face east to protect the 
commitment of General Patton's Third 
Army into Brittany. 1 To set the First 
Army wheeling maneuver into motion, 
General Bradley decided to breach the 
German defenses with a massive blow by 
VII Corps on a narrow front in the cen- 
ter of the army zone and to unhinge the 
German defenses opposing VIII Corps 
by then making a powerful armored 
thrust to Coutances. With the basic 
aim of propelling the American right 
(west) flank to Coutances, Cobra was 
to be both a breakthrough attempt and 
an exploitation to Coutances, a relatively 
deep objective in the enemy rear— the 
prelude to a later drive to the southern 
base of the Cotentin, the threshold of 
Brittany. 2 

>2i AGp Dir, M-510, 10 Jul, FUSA File, 21 
AGp Dirs. 

2 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 96ft. 



The word breakthrough, frequently 
used during the planning period, signi- 
fied a penetration through the depth of 
the enemy defensive position. The 
word breakout was often employed later 
somewhat ambiguously or as a literary 
term to describe the results of Cobra 
and meant variously leaving the hedge- 
row country, shaking loose from the Co- 
tentin, acquiring room for mobile war- 
fare—goodbye Normandy, hello Brest. 

Reporters writing after the event and 
impressed with the results stressed the 
breakout that developed rather than the 
breakthrough that was planned. Par- 
ticipants tended later to be convinced 
that the breakout was planned the way 
it happened because they were proud of 
the success of the operation, perhaps also 
because it made a better story. In truth, 
Operation Cobra in its original concept 
reflected more than sufficient credit on 
those who planned, executed, and ex- 
ploited it into the proportions it event- 
ually assumed. Cobra became the key 
maneuver from which a large part of the 
subsequent campaign in Europe devel- 
oped. 

During the twelve days that separated 
the issuance of the plan and the com- 
mencement of Cobra, command and staff 
personnel discussed in great detail the 
possible consequences of the attack. "If 
this thing goes as it should," General 
Collins later remembered General Brad- 



198 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



ley saying, "we ought to be in Avranches 
in a week." 3 Certainly it was reasonable 
to hope that Cobra would precipitate 
a breakthrough that might be exploited 
into what later came to be called the 
breakout, but a justifiable hope did not 
prove a firm intention— particularly when 
considered in relation to the stubborn 
German defense in the hedgerows. Per- 
haps in their most secret and wildest 
dreams American planners had visions 
of a Cobra that would slither across 
France, but as late as 18 July there were 
"still a few things that [First] Army has 
not decided yet." One of those "few 
things" was that Cobra was to be synony- 
mous with breakout. 4 

Perhaps the best a priori evidence of 
how difficult it would be to achieve even 
a breakthrough was the result of two 

3 Interv by author with Gen Collins, 30 Mar 56, 
Washington, D.C. 

4 30th Div G-3 Jnl File, 18 Jul; see also VIII 
Corps AAR, Jul. The only reference in writing 
found by the author that expresses the breakout 
idea before the actual operation got under way is 
in Brereton, Diaries, page 306. General Brereton 
recorded in his notes, dated 11 July (two days be- 
fore First Army published the Cobra plan) that 
he had discussed with General Bradley and three 
corps commanders the matter of air support for 
Cobra. He added parenthetically that the Cobra 
attack was designed to break out of the Cotentin 
and complete the liberation of France, but he did 
not state whether this was his idea or General Brad- 
ley's. Since portions of the diary were written later 
than the dates ascribed to the entries, the diary is 
not a reliable contemporary document. 

More suggestive is General Bradley's response 
to General Montgomery's suggestion that airborne 
troops be dropped in the Avranches area to aid 
Cobra. General Bradley said he thought that air- 
borne troops might be more suitably used in 
future operations, perhaps in Brittany (FUSA 
Msg, 23 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl) . Since General Brad- 
ley was not usually receptive to the idea of air- 
borne operations (as evidenced by his behavior 
later in the campaign) , his remark probably has 
little significance in connection with what he 
expected from Cobra. 



limited objective attacks launched by 
the VIII Corps a week before Cobra. 

Preliminary Operations 

A basic feature of the Cobra plan was 
the encirclement and elimination of the 
Germans facing the VIII Corps on the 
Cotentin west coast. For an effective 
execution of this concept, VIII Corps 
had to advance its front quickly toward 
Coutances at the proper time. Yet two 
German strongpoints in the corps zone 
of advance threatened to block a speedy 
getaway by a portion of the corps. To 
have to destroy them during the Cobra 
operation would retard the initial mo- 
mentum of the Cobra attack. To elim- 
inate them before Cobra commenced, to 
move the corps front closer to a more de- 
sirable line of departure, and to get the 
entire corps out of Cotentin swampland 
became the objectives of two prelimi- 
nary operations. 

Because the German strongpoints were 
virtually independent positions, the pre- 
liminary operations initiated by the 83d 
and 90th Divisions of VIII Corps were 
separate, local attacks. The actions were 
remarkably alike in the assault problems 
they posed, in the nature of the combat, 
which resembled the earlier battle of 
the hedgerows, and in the results at- 
tained. 

The 83d Division attacked first. Since 
its original commitment on 4 July, the 
division had fought in the Carentan- 
Periers isthmus, had gained the west 
bank of the Taute River near the Tribe- 
hou causeway, and had sent the 330th 
Infantry across the Taute to operate 
with the 9th Division on the east bank. 
The remainder of the 83d Division had 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



199 



attacked along the west bank of the 
Taute toward Periers and had reached 
a causeway leading to la Varde. In its 
pre-CoBRA assignment, the division was 
to attack across the la Varde causeway 
to the east bank of the Taute. In pos- 
session of la Varde and near the Lessay- 
Periers highway, the division would have 
a water-and-swamp obstacle behind it 
and be in position to threaten encircle- 
ment of Periers from the east. At this 
point it would also regain control of the 
350th Infantry. (See Map II.) 



The Germans did not hold la Varde in 
strength. A reinforced company was 
sufficient since the flat ground around la 
Varde provided open fields of fire for 
more than a thousand yards in all di- 
rections. Only five machine guns were 
at la Varde, but they were able to fire as 
though "shooting across a billiard ta- 
ble." 5 From nearby positions at Mar- 
chesieux, German assault guns could 
provide effective support. 

In contrast to the excellent assistance 
the terrain furnished the defense, there 
were no natural features to aid the at- 
tack. Between the 83d Division on the 
west bank and the Germans holding la 
Varde on the east bank stretched the 
gray-brown desolation of the Taute 
River flats. The Taute River, at this 
point a stream fifteen feet wide and two 
feet deep with about a foot of soft mud 
on the bottom, flowed along the western 
edge of the marsh. The causeway that 
crossed the swamp was a tarred two-lane 
road little higher than the open area of 
stagnant marsh and flooded mudholes. 
Over a mile long, the causeway ran 
straight and level through borders of 



regularly spaced trees that gave the ap- 
pearance of a country lane. The road 
in fact was the approach— the driveway— 
to a small chateau on the west bank of 
the swamp. The small bridge over the 
Taute near the chateau had been de- 
stroyed by the Germans. Along both 
edges of the swamp, lush banks of trees 
and hedges concealed the chateau, which 
was the jump-off point, and the hamlet 
of la Varde, the objective. In between, 
there was no cover. Foxholes in the 
flats would quickly fill with water. The 
only feasible method of attack was to 
crawl forward and then charge the en- 
emy machine guns with grenades and 
bayonets. The swamp was mucky, and 
vehicles could not cross the causeway 
unless the bridge near the chateau was 
repaired. 8 

The division commander, General 
Macon, decided that an attack launched 
around 1800 would give engineers five 
hours before darkness to lay temporary 
bridging across the stream. Thus, 
build-up and consolidation of a bridge- 
head established at la Varde could be 
accomplished during the night. Colonel 
York's 331st Infantry was to make the 
assault, Colonel Crabill's 329th Infantry 
a diversionary attack. A strong artillery 
preparation was to include considerable 
smoke. Though the division tried to 
get tracked vehicles capable of carry- 
ing supplies across the swamp in the 
event engineers could not repair the 
bridge over the Taute, their efforts 



5 Telecon, Macon and York, 0110, 18 Jul, 83d 
Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File. 



6 Min of Mtg, 1330, 21 Jul, 83d Div G-2, G-3 
Jnl File. The following account has been taken 
from the 83d Div AAR, Jul, and G-2, G-3 Jnl and 

File, 16-19 J«l; 33 lst Inf AAR » J ul : J ack M - 
Straus, We Saw It Through, 331st Combat Team 
(Munich, Germany: F. Bruckmann K. G., n.d.) , p. 
19; FUSA Sitreps 84, 85, and 86, 18 and 19 Jul; VIII 
Corps G-3 Per Rpt 34, 19 Jul. 



200 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



failed. First Army headquarters, after 
much prodding, agreed to lend the di- 
vision eight "Alligators" for one day but 
refused to furnish drivers. 7 Normally 
used on the Normandy invasion beaches 
to handle supplies unloaded from ships, 
the Alligators arrived in the division 
area too late for use in the la Varde at- 
tack. 

In the afternoon of 17 July, shortly 
before the main attack, reconnaissance 
troops of the 330th Infantry, on the east 
side of the river, attempted to approach 
la Varde from the east. Enemy ma- 
chine gun fire stopped the effort. The 
diversionary attack on the west bank, 
launched by the 329th Infantry in com- 
pany strength, turned out to be little 
more than a demonstration that "just 
pooped out" after taking thirteen casual- 
ties. 8 At 1830, half an hour after the 
diversion commenced, Colonel York 
sent one battalion of his 331st Infantry 
toward la Varde in the main effort. 

Because the causeway was the natural 
crossing site and because the flat straight 
road would obviously be swept by Ger- 
man fire, Colonel York sent his assault 
battalion through the spongy swamp. 
Using prefabricated footbridges, the in- 
fantry struggled across muck and water 
sometimes neck deep. At nightfall the 
battalion reached la Varde and estab- 
lished an insecure bridgehead. Many 
infantrymen who had crawled through 
the swamp found their weapons clogged 
with silt and temporarily useless. The 
mud, the darkness, and enemy fire dis- 
couraged weapons cleaning. Though 
the regiment had planned to reinforce 

7 Alligator was the nickname given to an un- 
armored, tracked landing vehicle, the LVT (1) . 

8 Telecon, Macon and Crabill, 1920, 17 Jul, 83d 
Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File. 



the battalion during the night over the 
causeway, engineers had been unable to 
erect a temporary bridge because of 
heavy enemy tank destroyer fire on the 
bridge site. Unable to get supply ve- 
hicles, tanks, and artillery over the flats 
to support the battalion at la Varde, and 
deeming it impossible either to trans- 
port a sufficient supply of ammunition 
by hand or to send reinforcements across 
the treacherous swamp, General Macon 
reluctantly agreed to let the battalion at 
la Varde— which shortly after daylight, 
18 July, reported it was unable to re- 
main on the east bank— fall back. 

The 331st Infantry tried again at 
dawn, 19 July, in an attack keyed to 
fire support from the 330th Infantry on 
the east bank of the Taute and to con- 
cealment by smoke and an early morn- 
ing haze. Eschewing the swampy low- 
lands, the assault battalion advanced di- 
rectly down the causeway. Against sur- 
prisingly light enemy fire, the troops 
again established a foothold at la Varde. 
Engineers in the meantime installed a 
Bailey bridge across the Taute near the 
chateau. Unfortunately, a normal pre- 
caution of mining the bridge so it could 
be destroyed in case of counterattack 
backfired when enemy shellfire deto- 
nated the explosives. The bridge went 
up with a roar. Since tanks again could 
not cross the swamp, the foothold at la 
Varde was once more precarious. When 
the enemy launched a small counterat- 
tack that afternoon, the troops retired. 

The failure of this attack ended the 
attempts to take la Varde. The par- 
ticipating rifle companies had taken cas- 
ualties of 50 percent of authorized 
strength, and one battalion commander 
was missing in action. Difficult terrain 
and plain bad luck had contributed to 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



201 



the failure, but more basic was the inef- 
fectiveness of the 83d Division. The di- 
vision earlier that month had incurred 
more casualties and received more re- 
placements in its short combat career 
than any other U.S. unit in Normandy in 
a comparable span of time. The loss 
of trained leaders and men in the com- 
bat echelons and their replacement by 
the large influx of relatively untrained 
personnel had diminished the division's 
efficiency. "We have quite a few new 
men and they are really new," Colonel 
York explained; "[they] don't know 
their officers . . . and the officers don't 
know their men." 9 

Recognizing the condition of the di- 
vision, Generals Bradley and Middleton 
saw no purpose in continuing the futile 
pattern at la Varde. They saw more 
hope in revising the VIII Corps role in 
Cobra. In the meantime the 83d Di- 
vision was to train and try to assimilate 
its replacements. 

In the same way, the results of the 
90th Division's attempts to execute a 
pre-CoBRA mission also contributed to 
a modification of the VIII Corps role 
in Cobra. After twelve days of sus- 
tained action at Mont Castre and Beau- 
coudray, the 90th Division had also 
seen its ranks depleted in the wearing 
battle of the hedgerows. Less than six 
weeks after commitment in Normandy, 
the division's enlisted infantry replace- 
ments numbered more than 100 per- 
cent of authorized strength; infantry of- 
ficer replacements totaled almost 150 
percent. In comparison to the veterans 
who had fought in the hedgerows, the 



replacements were poorly trained and 
undependable, as soon became obvious 
in the division's new assignment. 

The pre-CoBRA objective of the 90th 
Division was a low hedgerowed mound 
of earth surrounded by swampland. 
Athwart the division zone of advance, 
the island of dry ground held the village 
of St. Germain-sur-Seves. Possessing the 
island and across the Seves River, the 
division would be in position not only 
to threaten Periers but also to get to the 
Periers— Coutances highway. 

Only a weak German battalion held 
the island, but it had excellent positions 
dug into the hedgerowed terrain, good 
observation, and a superb field of fire. 
Several assault guns and a few light 
tanks supported the infantry; artillery 
was tied into the strongpoint defenses. 10 

Two miles long and half a mile wide, 
the island had been more than normally 
isolated by the heavy rainfall in June, 
which had deepened the shallow streams 
along its north and south banks. Link- 
ing the hamlet of St. Germain to the 
"mainland" was a narrow, tarred road 
from the western tip of the island. The 
Germans had destroyed a small bridge 
there, the only suitable site for engineer 
bridging operations. Several hundred 
yards away, a muddy country lane gave 
access to the island from the north, across 
a ford. How to cross level treeless 
swamps that offered neither cover nor 
concealment was the assault problem. 
Although a night attack seemed appro- 
priate, the division commander, Gen- 
eral Landrum, quickly abandoned the 
idea. With so many newly arrived re- 
placements he dared not risk the prob- 



8 Telecon, Macon and York, 0110, 18 Jul, 83d 
Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File; 83d Div G-3 Per 
Rpt 22, 18 Jul. 



10 Hodgson, R-54. 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



1cm of control inherent in a night op- 
eration. 11 

To help overcome the terrain difficul- 
ties, General Landrum arranged for 
heavy fire support. Since his was to be 
the only attack in progress in the corps 
rone, more than normal fire power was 
available. He received the assistance 
of the entire VIII Corps Artillery. Be- 
cause the 83d Division had Eound the la 
Vardc operation so difficult, preparatory 
bombardment by tactical air was prom- 
ised for the 90th Division. To make 
certain of a preponderance of fire power, 
LandTum directed all nonparticipating 
infantry units to support the attack by 
fire. 

General Landrum selected the 358th 
Infantry to make the attack. The regi- 
mental commander, Lt. Col. Christian 
E. Clarke, Jr., planned to attack with 
two battalions abreast, each advancing 
along one of the roads to the island. 
Once on the island, the two battalions 
were to form a consolidated bridgehead. 
Engineers were then to lay bridging so 
that tanks and assault guns could cross 
the Seves and support a drive eastward 
to clear the rest of the island. 

Initially scheduled for 18 July, the 
operation was postponed several times 
until artillery ammunition problems- 
matters affecting the Cobra prepara- 
tions-were settled. The attack was fin- 
ally set for the morning of as July. 
Poor visibility that morning grounded 
not only the fighter-bombers that were 
to make an air strike on the island but 



"This account has been taken from: goth Dlv 
AAR, Jul; FUSA IG Ltr, FaihiTe of Elements of 
the sr,8th Inf, goth IMv, to Resist a German Coun- 
terattack. s6 Jul; VI 11 Corps IG Ltr, Rpt of In- 
vestigation of 358th Inf Regt, goth Inf Div, 11 
Aug. 




Advancing Toward St. Germain 



also the artillery observation planes. 
Though in great volume, the artillery 
preparation thus was unobserved. 

Since no other actions were occurring 
in the area, the Germans, like VIII 
Corps, were able to utilize all their fire 
resources within range to meet the Amer- 
ican attack, Enemy fire prevented the 
assault troops from advancing beyond 
the line of departure. A battalion of 
the 90th Division not even taking part 
in the attack sustained forty-two casual- 
ties from enemy shelling." American 
counter battery fires plotted by map 
seemed to have no real effect. 

Three hours after the designated time 
of attack, one battalion moved forward 
along the muddy country lane. Taking 
50 percent casualties in the assault com- 
panies, men of the battalion crossed the 
swamp, waded the stream, and reached 

"357th Inf Jnl. entry laio. 23 Jul, 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



203 



the island. The momentum of their 
advance carried them 200 yards into the 
interior. Colonel Clarke quickly or- 
dered the other assault battalion to take 
the same route, but only one rifle com- 
pany managed to reach St. Germain in 
this manner. Though Colonel Clarke 
replaced the battalion commander with 
the regimental executive officer, the new 
battalion commander had no more suc- 
cess in reinforcing the foothold. The 
Germans pounded the approaches to the 
island with artillery and mortars and 
swept the open ground with machine 
gun fire. The only practical method 
of crossing the exposed area was by in- 
filtration, and most men sent toward 
the island lost their way. 

By dark of the first day of attack, at 
least 400 men were on the island. One 
battalion reduced to half strength by 
casualties and stragglers, less its mortar 
platoon, plus little more than one com- 
pany of another battalion, formed a 
horseshoe line on the island about 200 
yards deep and a thousand yards wide, 
with both flanks resting on the swamp. 
The troops repelled a small German 
counterattack, and the positions seemed 
quite stable. Still, efforts to reinforce 
the bridgehead failed. Because enemy 
fire prevented engineers from bridging 
the stream, neither tanks nor tank de- 
stroyers could cross. 

With the descent of darkness, the 
troops on the island began to experience 
a sense of insecurity. Lacking mortars, 
tanks, and antitank guns, the men with- 
drew to a defiladed road along the north 
edge of the island. In the pitchblack 
darkness, some of the demoralized troops 
began furtive movement to the rear. 
Stragglers, individually and in groups, 



drifted unobtrusively out of the battle 
area. Soldiers pretended to help evacu- 
ate wounded, departed under the guise 
of messengers, or sought medical aid for 
their own imagined wounds. German 
fire and the dark night encouraged this 
unauthorized hegira and added to the 
problems of unit commanders in recog- 
nizing and controlling their recently ar- 
rived replacements. 

Shortly after nightfall, Colonel Clarke 
discovered that the battalion commander 
of the forces on the island had remained 
on the near shore. When he ordered 
him to join his men, the officer did so, 
but neglected to take his staff. Learn- 
ing this later, Colonel Clarke dispatched 
the staff to the island, but the officers 
lost their way and did not reach St. Ger- 
main. 

At daylight, 23 July, the German shell- 
ing subsided, a prelude to the appearance 
of three German armored vehicles on 
one flank of the American positions and 
an assault gun on the other. As these 
began to fire, a German infantry com- 
pany of about platoon strength— perhaps 
thirty men— attacked. Only a few Amer- 
icans in the bridgehead fired their 
weapons. Panic-stricken for the most 
part, they fell back and congregated in 
two fields at the edge of the island. 
Hedgerows surrounded each of these 
fields on three sides; the fourth, facing 
the swamp, was open and invited escape. 
Continuing German fire across the open 
ground provided the only restraint to 
wholesale retreat. 

Officers at regimental headquarters on 
the "mainland" had begun to suspect 
that the situation was deteriorating when 
unidentified cries of "cease firing" swept 
across the two fields. A shell landed in 



204 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



a corner of one field, inflicting heavy cas- 
ualties on men huddling together in 
fear. At this moment, despite little fir- 
ing and few Germans in evidence, a 
group of American soldiers started to- 
ward the enemy, their hands up, some 
waving white handkerchiefs. That was 
the end. The rest of the men either 
surrendered or fled across the swamp. 

At the conclusion of the fight for St. 
Germain, about 300 men were missing in 
action. A later check revealed that ap- 
proximately 100 men had been killed, 
500 wounded, and 200 captured. 

The causes for failure were clear. 
Weather, terrain, a resourceful enemy, 
command deficiency at the battalion 
level (caused perhaps by combat exhaus- 
tion during the preceding battle of the 
hedgerows) had contributed to the re- 
sult. The main cause, however, was 
the presence of so many inadequately 
trained replacements. The 90th Divi- 
sion had not had enough time to fuse 
its large number of replacements into 
fighting teams. 

It seemed as though the performance 
of the 90th Division at St. Germain was 
but a logical extension of earlier unsat- 
isfactory behavior. General Eisenhower 
remarked that the division had been 
"less well prepared for battle than al- 
most any other" in Normandy, for it 
had not been "properly brought up" af- 
ter activation. 13 Judging that the divi- 
sion needed new leadership, a com- 
mander not associated with experiences 
of the hedgerow battle, higher head- 



13 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue 
Files; see Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, p. 403; 
Robert R. Palmer, Bell I. Wiley, William R. Keast, 
The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat 
Troops, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 
WAR II (Washington, 1948) , p. 459, n. 19. 



quarters decided to relieve the division 
commander. "Nothing against Land- 
rum," General Eisenhower remarked, 
adding that he would be glad to have 
General Landrum in command of a di- 
vision he himself had conducted through 
the training cycle. 14 

Failure in the preliminary operations 
was in many ways depressing, but Amer- 
ican commanders still were hopeful that 
Cobra would not bring another recur- 
rence of the difficult hedgerow fighting. 
The First Army that was to execute 
Cobra was not the same one that had 
launched the July offensive. Battle had 
created an improved organization, and 
a continuing continental build-up had 
strengthened it. What the army needed 
was the opportunity to get rolling, and 
Cobra might well provide just that. 

The Troops 

The hedgerow fighting that had ex- 
hausted and depleted the ranks had also 
made the survivors combat wise. Com- 
mon mistakes of troops entering combat 
were "reliance on rumor and exagger- 
ated reports, failure to support ma- 
neuvering elements by fire, and a tend- 
ency to withdraw under HE [high-ex- 
plosive] fire rather than to advance out 
of it." 15 Each unit now had a core of 
veterans who oriented and trained re- 
placements. Most combat leaders had 
taken the test of ordeal by fire. The 
great majority of divisions on the Conti- 
nent were battle trained. 

An assurance had developed that was 
particularly apparent in dealings with 

14 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 2 Aug, Pogue 
Files. 

15 12th AGp Immed Rpt 41, Misc Comment, 29 
Aug. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



205 



enemy armor. Earlier, when a regi- 
ment had blunted a tank-infantry coun- 
terattack, the significant and gratifying 
result was that it had stopped German 
armor. "Glad to know they can hold 
their own against tanks," was the com- 
ment. 16 But such experience was be- 
coming increasingly common, and defi- 
nite identification of a knocked-out Mark 
VI Tiger proved conclusively that even 
the German tank with the strongest ar- 
mor was vulnerable to American weap- 
ons. Artillery, tanks, bazookas, tank 
destroyers, and tactical aircraft could 
and did destroy German tanks. By 1 1 
July the First Army Ordnance Section 
had accumulated in collecting points 36 
Mark Ill's and IV's, 5 Mark V's and VI's. 
The hedgerowed terrain had neutralized 
to a great extent the ability of the Ti- 
ger's 88-mm. gun and the Panther's 
75-mm. gun to penetrate an American 
tank at 2,500 yards. Tanks generally 
engaged at distances between 150 and 
400 yards, ranges at which the more ma- 
neuverable Sherman enjoyed a distinct 
superiority. 17 

Though a tank destroyer crew had 
seen three of its 3-inch armor-piercing 
shells bounce off the frontal hull of a 
Mark V Panther at 200 yards range, a 
fourth hit had penetrated the lower 
front hull face and destroyed the tank. 18 
A soldier who had met and subdued an 
enemy tank later reported, "Colonel, 
that was a great big son-of-a-bitch. It 
looked like a whole road full of tank. 
It kept coming on and it looked like it 



19 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl, entry 1209, 8 Jul. 

"XIX Corps Msg, 1800, 8 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; 
Annex 1 to FUSA G-2 Per Rpt 48, 28 Jul; XIX and 
VII Corps AAR's, Jul. 

18 Notes, XIX Corps AAR, Jul; VII Corps AAR, 
Jul. 



was going to destroy the whole world." 
Three times that soldier had fired his 
bazooka, but still the tank kept coming. 
Waiting until the tank passed, he had 
disabled it with one round from be- 
hind. 19 

The ability to destroy German armor 
generated a contagious confidence that 
prompted some units to add a two-man 
bazooka team to each infantry battalion, 
not principally for defense but to go out 
and stalk enemy armored vehicles. 20 
With this frame of reference becoming 
prevalent, the troops displayed a decreas- 
ing tendency to identify self-propelled 
guns as tanks. Even such a battered 
division as the 83d manifested an aggres- 
siveness just before Cobra when it 
launched a reconnaissance in force that 
developed spontaneously into a co- 
ordinated limited objective attack. Not 
the objective gained but the indication 
of a spirit that was ready to exploit 
favorable battle conditions was what 
counted. 21 

One of the major problems that had 
hampered the First Army— how to use 
tanks effectively in the hedgerow coun- 
try—appeared to have been solved just 
before Cobra. The most effective 
weapon for opening gaps in hedgerows 
was the tank dozer, a comparatively new 
development in armored warfare. So 
recently had its worth been demonstrated 
that a shortage of the dozers existed in 
Normandy. Ordnance units converted 
ordinary Sherman tanks into dozers by 



16 CI 30 (4th Div) . The soldier was Pvt. Eugene 
Hix of the 22d Infantry, who was posthumously 
awarded the DSC for destroying three tanks in 
three days with his rocket launcher. 

20 See, for example, 356th Inf Jnl, 24 Jul. 

21 83d Div AAR, 23 Jul; Confirmation of Oral 
Instrs, 22 Jul, 83d Div G^2, G-3 Jnl and File. 



206 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Rhino Tank with hedgerow cutter 
crashing through a hedgerow. 



mounting a blade on the front. Some 
hedgerows, however, were so thick that 
engineers using satchel charges had first 
to open a hole, which the dozers later 
cleared and widened. 22 

Because the use of demolitions and 
tank, dozers was time consuming, the 
tanks in offensive activity had often re- 
mained on the roads, and when cross- 
country movement became necessary, 
progress was inevitably slow. In order 
to speed up the movement of armor. 
Ordnance units and tankers throughout 
the army had devoted a great deal of 
thought and experimentation to find a 
device that would get tanks through the 
hedges quickly without tilting the tanks 
upward, thereby exposing their under- 

~ " ETOU5A Engt Hist Rpt 10. Combat 
Engineering, Aug 45. PP- $«-8f. 



bellies and pointing their guns helpless- 
ly toward the sky. The gadgets in- 
vented in July 1944 were innumerable. 

As early as 5 July the 79th Division 
had developed a "hedgecutter," which 
Ordnance personnel began attaching to 
the front of tanks. Five days later the 
XIX Corps was demonstrating a "salad 
fork" arrangement, heavy frontal prongs 
originally intended to bore holes in 
hedgerow walls to facilitate placing 
engineer demolition charges but acci- 
dentally found able to lift a portion of 
the hedgerow like a fork and allow the 
tank to crash through the remaining 
part of the wall. Men in the V Corps 
invented a "brush cutter" and a "green - 
dozer" as antihedgerow devices. 

The climax of the inventive efforts 
was achieved by a sergeant in the io2d 
Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Cur- 
tis G. Culin, Jr., who welded steel scrap 
from a destroyed enemy roadblock to a 
tank to perfect a hedgecutter with several 
tusk like prongs, teeth that pinned down 
the tank belly while the tank knocked a 
hole in the hedgerow wall by force. 
General Bradley and members of his 
staff who inspected this hedgecutter on 
14 July were so impressed that Ordnance 
units on the Continent were ordered to 
produce the device in mass, using scrap 
metal salvaged from German underwater 
obstacles on the invasion beaches. Gen- 
eral Bradley also sent Col. John B. 
Medaris, the army Ordnance officer, to 
England by plane to get depots there to 
produce the tusks and equip tanks with 
them and to arrange for transporting to 
France by air additional arc-welding 
equipment and special welding crews. 

Every effort was made to equip all 
tanks with this latest "secret weapon," 
for it enabled a tank to plough through 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



207 



a hedgerow as though the hedgerow were 
pasteboard. The hedgecutter sliced 
through the earth and growth, throwing 
bushes and brush into the air and keep- 
ing the nose of the tank down. The 
device was important in giving tankers a 
morale lift, for the hedgerows had be- 
come a greater psychological hazard than 
their defensive worth merited. 

Named Rhinoceros attachments, later 
called Rhinos, the teeth were so effec- 
tive in breaching the hedgerows that 
tank destroyer and self-propelled gun 
units also requested them, but the First 
Army Ordnance Section carefully super- 
vised the program to make certain that 
as many tanks as possible were equipped 
first. By the time Cobra was launched 
three out of every five tanks in the First 
Army mounted the hedgecutter. In 
order to secure tactical surprise for the 
Rhinos, General Bradley forbade their 
use until Cobra. 23 

Not the least beneficial result of the 
July combat was the experience that had 
welded fighting teams together. "We 
had a lot of trouble with the tanks," an 
infantry commander had reported; "they 
haven't been working with us before 
and didn't know how to use the dyna- 
mite." 24 Co-operation among the arms 
and services had improved simply be- 



23 79th Div G-4 Jnl, 5 Jul; XIX Corps G-4 
(Rear Echelon) Jnl, 10 and 19 Jul; XIX Corps 
Ord Sec Jnl, 24 Jul; 30th Div G-3 Jnl, 1405, 19 
Jul; Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 342; Eisenhower, 
Crusade in Europe, p. 269; First U.S. Army, Report 
of Operations, I, 122; V Corps Operations in the 
ETO, pp. 120-21; [Lt Col Glenn T. Pillsbury et 
al.], Employment of 2d Armored Division in 
Operation Cobra, 25 July-i August 1944, a research 
report prepared by Committee 3, Officers' Advanced 
Course (Fort Knox, Ky., The Armored School, 
May, 1950) (hereafter cited as [Pillsbury], 2d 
Armd Div in Opn Cobra) , p. 8; Guingand, Opera- 
tion Victory, p. 395; Sylvan Diary, 14 and 17 Jul. 



cause units had worked together. Part 
of the developing confidence was gen- 
erated by the fact that increasing num- 
bers of medium tanks had received the 
newer and more powerful 76-mm. gun 
to replace the less effective 75-mm. gun, 
and thus were better able to deal with 
the enemy. 25 

Perhaps the most significant improve- 
ment in team operations was the in- 
creasing co-ordination that was develop- 
ing between the ground forces and the 
tactical airplanes. In addition to per- 
forming the primary mission of trying to 
isolate the battlefield by attacking 
enemy lines of communication, the IX 
Tactical Air Command had employed a 
large portion of its effort in direct and 
close ground support. The pilots had 
attacked such targets as strongpoints re- 
tarding the ground advance, troop con- 
centrations, gun positions, and com- 
mand posts. They had also flown ex- 
tensive air reconnaissance for the ground 
troops. 26 On a typical day of action the 
fighter bombers of the IX TAC exerted 
40 percent of their air effort in close sup- 
port of the First Army, 30 percent in 
direct support of the Second British 
Army, 10 percent against rail lines and 
communications 50 to 70 miles behind 
the enemy front, and 20 percent in offen- 
sive fighter activity and ground assault 
area cover. 27 



24 Telecon, Stephens and Kelly, 1225, 15 Jul, 
30th Div G-3 Jnl and File; 30th Div Ltr of Instrs, 
"5 Jul. 

25 [Pillsbury], 2d Armd Div in Opn Cobra, 
P- 19- 

2a First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 91; 
[Robert F. Futrell], Command of Observation 
Aviation: A Study in Control of Tactical Air 
Power, USAF Hist Study 24 (Maxwell Air Force 
Base, Ala., Air University, 1952) , passim. 

27 FUSA and IX TAC Air Opns Summary for 
18 Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



208 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Ground-air communications were be- 
ing improved. "Wish you would tell 
the Air Corps we don't want them over 
here," an irate division staff officer had 
pleaded early in July after a few strafing 
planes had struck an American artillery 
battalion and wounded several men. 
"Have them get out in front [and] let 
them take pictures [but] no strafing or 
bombing." 28 Complaints of this nature 
were decreasing. Pilots of a tactical re- 
connaissance group attended courses of 
instruction in artillery fire adjustment, 
and as a result high performance air- 
craft began to supplement the small 
artillery planes with good effect. 29 
Particularly interested in developing a 
practical basis for plane-tank commu- 
nications, General Quesada, the IX TAC 
commander, had very high frequency 
(VHF) radios, used by the planes, in- 
stalled in what were to be the lead tanks 
of the armored column just before Cobra 
was launched. Tankers and pilots 
could then talk to each other, and the 
basis for the technique of what later be- 
came known as armored column cover 
was born. The success of the technique 
in August was to exceed all expecta- 
tions. 30 

The development of new air opera- 
tional techniques and weapons such as 
rocket-firing apparatus and jellied gaso- 
line, or napalm, also promised more 
effective support for the ground troops. 
Experiments with radar-controlled blind 

28 ist Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1717, 7 Jul. 

29 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 124; 
Ltr, Corlett to OCMH, 1956. 

30 Brereton, Diaries, 21 Jul, p. 311; Bradley, 
Effect of Air Power, p. 41; Bradley, Soldier's Story, 
pp. 337-38; Leigh-Mallory, "Despatch," Fourth Sup- 
plement to the London Gazette of December 31, 
1946, pp. 65-66. Artillery often marked ground tar- 
gets for the aircraft. Interv by author with Gen 
Collins, 30 Mar 56, Washington, D.C. 



dive bombing and with the technique of 
talking a flight in on target indicated 
that night fighter operations might soon 
become more practical. Since no fields 
for night fighters were operational on the 
Continent, the craft were based in Eng- 
land. Employment of night fighters in 
tactical support was not usually con- 
sidered profitable even though ground 
forces requested it. 31 In July work 
with radar-controlled night nights and 
projects for eventually basing night 
fighters on continental airfields promoted 
hope of round-the-clock air support. 

Fighter-bomber groups in direct tac- 
tical support of the First Army were 
moving to continental airfields at the 
rate of about two each week. By 25 
July twelve had continental bases. 
Their nearness to the battle zone elim- 
inated the need to disseminate ground 
information across the channel to air- 
fields in England as prerequisite for 
ground support. American ground 
units desiring air support channeled 
their requests to the First Army joint air 
operations section, which secured quick 
action for specific missions. 32 

During July, the American ground 
build-up proceeded steadily. Four in- 
fantry and four armored divisions 
reached the Continent during the month 



31 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl, 8 Jul; ist Div G-3 
Jnl, entries 1326, 5 Jul, 0008 and 0012, 6 Jul. Two 
American night fighter squadrons operated under 
British control, mainly against guided missiles. 
In September P-38's of one IX TAC fighter group 
operated by radar control against German night 
troop movements, but they were not very suc- 
cessful. [Joe Gray Taylor], Development of Night 
Air Opns, 1941-1952, USAF Hist Study 92 (Max- 
well Air Force Base, Ala., Air University, 1953) , 
pp. 26-27, 116-17. See Leigh-Mallory, "Despatch," 
Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette of 
December 31, 1946, p. 89. 

32 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 91. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



209 



before Cobra. The arrival in England 
early in the month of the 8oth Division 
brought the theater total of U.S. divi- 
sions to 22: 14 infantry, 6 armored, and 
2 airborne. Four more were expected 
in August. During the first twenty-five 
days of July, almost half a million tons 
of supplies were brought into France, 
the bulk across the beaches. Although 
the Cherbourg harbor began to be used 
on 16 July, port operations there were 
not to become important until the end 
of the month. 33 

To launch Cobra, the First Army had 
four corps controlling fifteen divisions 
actually on the army front. 34 General 
Patton's Third Army headquarters had 
assembled in the Cotentin during July 
and was ready to become operational. 
Similarly awaiting the signal for com- 
mitment, two additional corps head- 
quarters were in France at the time 
Cobra was launched and another was 
to reach the Continent soon afterward. 
An infantry division and an armored 
division, not in the line, were available 
for use by the First Army in Cobra; an- 
other armored division was scheduled to 
land on the Continent before the end of 
the month. The First Army also was 
augmented by many supporting units 
that belonged to the Third Army: en- 
gineer and tank destroyer groups, evacua- 
tion hospitals, and Quartermaster rail- 
head, general service, gas supply, graves 
registration, and truck companies. The 
Forward Echelon of the Communications 
Zone headquarters was established at 



33 Ruppenthal, Logistical Support, 1, 449, n. 58; 
457. 464-65- 

34 One of these corps and seven divisions (plus 
the (jottrDivision, which had been attached to the 
First Army since March) belonged to the Third 
Army. 



Valognes by 22 July, and the entire 
Communications Zone headquarters 
would soon arrive. 35 

Obviously, one field army, the First, 
could not much longer effectively direct 
the operations of such a rapidly growing 
force. To prepare for the commitment 
of General Patton's army and to meet 
the necessity of directing two field 
armies, the U.S. 1st Army Group head- 
quarters began to displace from England 
to the Continent on 5 July, a move com- 
pleted one month later. 36 In order to 
maintain the fiction of Operation For- 
titude, the Allied deception that made 
the Germans believe a landing in the 
Pas-de-Calais might take place, ETOUSA 
activated the 12 th Army Group under 
the command of General Bradley. 
Transferred to the 12 th Army Group 
were all units and personnel that had 
been assigned to the U.S. 1st Army 
Group "except those specifically ex- 
cepted," in actuality, none. The 1st 
U.S. Army Group, under a new com- 
mander, thus became a nominal head- 
quarters existing only on paper until its 
abolition in October 1944. The 12 th 
Army Group became the operational 
headquarters that was to direct U.S. 
forces on the Continent. 37 

The presence of uncommitted head- 
quarters in Normandy proved an em- 
barrassing largess. General Mont- 
gomery did not utilize General Crerar's 
First Canadian Army headquarters until 
23 July, when it assumed a portion of 

3B FUSA Ltr, Attachment of Third U.S. Army 
Units, 17 Jul; TUSA Msg, 17 Jul; Forward Echelon, 
COMZ, ETOUSA Memo, 22 Jul. All in FUSA G-3 
Jnl. TUSA AAR, I, 12; XV Corps G-3 Jnl and File, 
Jul (particularly Telecons 12, 20, and 21 Jul). 

30 12th AGp AAR, I, 40. 

37 12 th AGp AAR, I, 6; ETOUSA GO 73, 14 Jul, 
quoted in 12th AGp AAR. 



210 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the Second British Army front. 38 And, 
on the American side of the beachhead, 
General Patton's Third Army, along 
with several corps headquarters, was still 
not employed in combat. Since Brittany 
had been selected as the stage for Gen- 
eral Patton's initial operations, the U.S. 
First Army had to reach the base of the 
Cotentin peninsula to provide the Third 
Army a means of ingress. A successful 
Cobra was a vital step toward this 
achievement. 

General Eisenhower on 25 July gave 
General Bradley authority to change the 
existing command structure of the U.S. 
forces and erect the organization en- 
visioned by the Overlord planners. At 
General Bradley's discretion in regard 
to timing, the 12 th Army Group head- 
quarters was to become operational, as- 
sume control of the First Army, and 
commit under its control the Third 
Army. 39 

Between the end of the earlier July 
offensive and the launching of Cobra, 
there was a lull for about a week. Not 
only did the period of inactivity permit 
plans to be perfected and the troops to 
be better organized for the attack, it also 
gave the men some rest and time to re- 
pair the equipment damaged in the 
battle of the hedgerows. Units were 
able to integrate replacements. By the 
time Cobra got under way, all the divi- 
sions on the Continent were close to 
authorized strength in equipment and 
personnel and most had undergone a 
qualitative improvement. 40 



38 Stacey, The Canadian Army, pp. 187, 194. 

39 12th AGp AAR, I, 6. 

40 See, for example, 9th Div Jnl, 1525, 17 Jul; 
743d Tk Bn Rpt 14, 18 Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl and 
File; FUSA Daily Strength Rpt; First U.S. Army, 
Report of Operations, I, 99. 



The quiet period before Cobra also 
made possible increased comforts such as 
hot meals, showers, and clothing changes. 
Even though B rations— a nonpackaged 
food affording a variety of hot meals- 
had reached the Continent early in July 
and were ready for issue to the troops, 
the battle of the hedgerows had 
prevented their being substituted for 
combat 10-in-i, K, and C rations until 
later in the month. With kitchens set 
up to serve hot meals, "it was amazing 
how many cows and chickens wandered 
into minefields . . . and ended up as 
sizzling platters." 41 

As Allied leaders searched rain-filled 
skies for a break in the clouds that might 
permit the air bombardment planned for 
Cobra, a phrase of the Air Corps hymn 
came to mind: "Nothing can stop the 
Army Air Corps." Nothing, they 
added, except weather. While im- 
patient commanders waited anxiously 
for sunshine, and while General Bradley 
facetiously assumed the blame for having 
"failed to make arrangements for proper 
weather," the First U.S. Army rested 
and prepared for the attack. 42 

The Plot Against Hitler 

During the lull over the battlefield in 
the west that followed Goodwood and 
preceded Cobra, and while defeats in 
the east gave the Germans increasing 
worry over the eventual outcome of the 
war, a dramatic attempt was made on 
Hitler's life on 20 July. In a speech 



41 314th Infantry Regiment, Through Combat, p. 
23; 357th Inf Jnl, entry 1900, 15 Jul; 2d Div AAR, 
Jul, Observations of the Div Comdr; 79th Div 
G-4 Jnl, 14 and 18 Jul. 

42 Bradley, Effect of Air Power, p. 53; Ltr, Brad- 
ley to Leigh-Mallory, 23 Jul, OCMH Files. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



211 



the following day, Hitler himself 
released the news to the world. "A very 
small clique of ambitious, unscrupulous 
and stupid officers" he announced, "made 
a conspiracy to kill me, and at the same 
time to seize hold of the German 
Supreme Command." 43 Within a short 
time Allied intelligence officers had 
pieced together a remarkably accurate 
account of the occurrence: a cabal of 
high-ranking Army officers had tried to 
assassinate Hitler with a bomb in order 
to seize political power in Germany. 
The bomb had inflicted only minor 
wounds on Hitler, and the Fuehrer 
moved swiftly to suppress the revolt. 
He named Heinrich Himmler— already 
Reich Minister of Interior, Reichs- 
fuehrer of the SS (and Waffen-SS), and 
Chief of the Gestapo and German 
Police— Commander of the Home Forces 
and gave him control of the military re- 
placement system. Hitler replaced the 
ailing Generaloberst Kurt Zeitzler, chief 
of staff of OKH and vaguely implicated 
in the conspiracy, with Generaloberst 
Heinz Guderian. High-ranking officers 
of Army, Air Force, and Navy were 
quick to reaffirm their loyalty to Hitler. 
The immediate result of the conspiracy 
was to tighten centralized control of the 
military in Hitler's hands. 44 

Allied intelligence had not only the 
facts but a plausible interpretation. 
The cause of the Putsch was "undoubt- 
edly the belief . . that Germany had 
lost the war." 45 

"Hitler Speech, 21 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl File, 23 
Jul. 

"FUSA G-2 Est 11, 24 Jul; see Hodgson, R-57, 
for a detailed bibliographical account of the Putsch 
and also for the reaction in the west; see Wilmot, 
Struggle For Europe, pp. 366ft., for a good account 
of the revolt. 

"FUSA G-2 Est 11, 24 Jul. 



That a "military clique," as Hitler calls 
them, should have been plotting to liq- 
uidate him is encouraging; that they should 
have chosen this moment is exhilarating. . . . 
The very fact that plotters reckoned that the 
time was ripe for a venture so complicated 
as the assassination of the Fuehrer argues 
that they had good reason to hope for suc- 
cess. . . . There seems ... no reason to dis- 
believe Hitler's assertion that it was an 
Army Putsch cut to the 1918 pattern and 
designed to seize power in order to come 
to terms with the Allies. For, from the 
military point of view, the rebels must have 
argued, what other course is open? How 
else save something, at least, from the 
chaos? How else save the face of the Ger- 
man Army, and, more important still, 
enough of its blood to build another for 
the next war? 46 

Colonel Dickson, the First Army G-2, 
believed that the Hitler government 
would remain in office by suppressing all 
opposition ruthlessly. He saw no evi- 
dence to suppose that the existing Ger- 
man Government would be overthrown 
by internal revolution or by revolt of 
one or more of the German field armies. 
He was certain that only the military 
defeat and the surrender of the German 
armies in the field would bring about 
the downfall of Hitler. The first step 
toward that goal was to intensify "the 
confusion and doubt in the mind of the 
German soldier in Normandy" by "an 
Allied break-through on the First Army 
front at this time, which would threaten 
to cut him off from the homeland, [and 
which] would be a decisive blow to the 
German Seventh Army." 47 On its 
knees, the Seventh Army had no future 
"save in the fact that so long as the battle 



46 Hitler and His Generals, App. B to 15 (S) Inf 
Div Intel Summary 30, n.d., reprinted in SHAEF 
Weekly Intel Summary 18, n.d., V Corps G-3 Jnl 
File. 

"FUSA G-2 Est 11, 24 Jul. 



212 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



continues the miracle may still take 
place. Buoyed up by accounts of what 
V 1 had done, no less than by the promise 
of V2, and still imbued with a discipline 
that has been impaired only by the sub- 
stitution of apathy for enthusiasm, the 
German soldier is still on the [Nazi] 
party's side." 48 

The fact was that very few officers in 
the west were implicated in the plot 
against Hitler. A small but important 
group in the headquarters of the Military 
Governor of France at Paris staged a 
coup that was successful for several 
hours, but except for isolated individ- 
uals who knew of the conspiracy, and 
rarer still those who were in sympathy 
with it, the military elsewhere on the 
Western Front were overwhelmingly 
loyal to Hitler, even though some might 
be doubtful of the eventual outcome of 
the war. Those who did play some 
small role in the plot had not delib- 
erately or unconsciously hindered field 
operations by treasonable conduct. The 
conspiracy had virtually no effect on the 
military situation in the west. The 
combat soldier in the "you-or-me" life- 
and-death struggle was too busy trying 
to remain alive. 49 The higher officers 
pledged their continuing loyalty to 
Hitler. All Germans were more or less 
impressed with the miracle that had 
saved Hitler's life. 50 

As a result of the Putsch, the effi- 

48 Hitler and His Generals, cited above, n. 46. 

46 See XIX Corps G-2 Per Rpt 55, Annex 3, Study 
of the Morale of the German Troops on XIX 
Corps Front, 9 Aug. 

50 See Constantine FitzGibbon, 20 July (New 
York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1956) and John 
Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power (London: 
Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1953) for accounts of the 
Putsch. 



ciency of the German war machine 
under Hitler increased, for Himmler 
took immediate steps to unify the mili- 
tary replacement system and eventually 
improved it. The Putsch also in- 
tensified Hitler's unfounded suspicion 
that mediocrity among his military com- 
manders might in reality be treason. 
Rommel, recuperating at home from an 
injury received in Normandy, was 
eventually incriminated and forced to 
commit suicide. Speidel, the Army 
Group B chief of staff, was later im- 
prisoned on evidence that indicated in- 
volvement. Kluge, the principal com- 
mander in the west, fell under suspicion 
nearly a month later when battlefield 
reverses in Normandy seemed to give 
substance to whispered accusations of 
his friendliness with known conspira- 
tors. Thus the Putsch, while giving 
Hitler the opportunity to consolidate 
military control even more in his own 
hands, pointed a blunt warning that the 
symptoms of military defeat were spread- 
ing an infectious distrust and suspicion 
among the higher echelons of the Ger- 
man military organization. 51 

On the battlefield in Normandy the 
half-hearted planning for an offensive 
action near Caen in August came to an 
end. Even before Goodwood had vio- 
lently disrupted German operational 
planning, Rommel, just before his near- 
fatal accident, had estimated that the 
Germans could hold the Normandy front 
only a few more weeks at the maxi- 
mum. 52 Several days later Kluge en- 



51 Hodgson, R-57; OB WEST, a Study in Com- 
mand, I, 123ft; MS # B-272 (Blumentritt) . 

62 Wilhelm Ritter von Schramm, Her 20, Juli 
in Paris (Bad Woerishofen, Germany: 1953) , p. 
77; Speidel, Invasion 1944, pp. 113-17. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



213 



dorsed Rommel's view. In a letter to 
Hitler he stated the hard facts clearly: 

In the face of the total enemy air 
superiority, we can adopt no tactics to com- 
pensate for the annihilating power of air 
except to retire from the battle field. . . . 
I came here with the firm resolve to enforce 
your command to stand and hold at all 
cost. The price of that policy is the steady 
and certain destruction of our troops. . . . 
The flow of materiel and personnel replace- 
ments is insufficient, and artillery and 
antitank weapons and ammunition are far 
from adequate. . . . Because the main force 
of our defense lies in the willingness of our 
troops to fight, then concern for the im- 
mediate future of this front is more than 
justified. . . . Despite all our efforts, the 
moment is fast approaching when our hard- 
pressed defenses will crack. When the 
enemy has erupted into open terrain, the 
inadequate mobility of our forces will 
make orderly and effective conduct of the 
battle hardly possible. 53 

When Goodwood seemed to confirm 
Rommel's and Kluge's opinions, OKW 
became doubtful of the value of plan- 
ning an offensive. Until the Germans 
learned where Patton was, they could 
not dispel their uncertainty about Allied 
intentions and consequently could not 
intelligently plan offensive action or 
weaken the Pas-de-Calais forces to bolster 
the Normandy front. On 23 July, im- 
mediately upon receipt of Kluge's letter, 
Jodl proposed to Hitler that it might 
be time to begin planning for an even- 
tual withdrawal from France. Surpris- 
ingly enough, Hilter agreed. 54 But be- 
fore anything came of this conversation, 
Cobra raised its head. 



53 Ltr, Kluge to Hitler, 21 Jul, OB WEST la Nr. 
5895/44 and 5896/44 g.Kdos. Chefs, and enclosure, 
Betrachtungen zur Lage, signed Rommel, 15 Jul, 
AGp B Lagebeurteilungen und Wochenmetdungen. 

54 Der Westen (Schramm) , pp. 68-69; Speidel, 
Invasion 1944, pp. 115-16; Gestapo Rpt to Bor- 



The Breakthrough Plan 

The persons most intimately con- 
nected with Cobra were General Brad- 
ley, who conceived it, and General Col- 
lins, who executed it. These officers, 
warm personal friends, each of whom 
seemed to be able to anticipate what the 
other was about to do, worked together 
so closely on the plans and on the devel- 
oping operations that it was sometimes 
difficult to separate their individual con- 
tributions. Their teamwork was par- 
ticularly effective within the American 
concept of command where the higher 
commander often gives his subordinate 
great leeway in the detailed planning of 
an operation. On the basis of recon- 
naissance, terrain study, road conditions, 
and photo analysis, the subordinate com- 
mander could recommend modifications 
that might alter quite basically the 
original idea. With fine communica- 
tions at their disposal, the American 
commanders at both echelons (indeed at 
all levels of command) could and did 
exchange information and suggestions, 
and measures proposed by the sub- 
ordinate could be approved quickly by 
the higher authority. Where mutual 
confidence abounded as it did in the case 
of Generals Bradley and Collins, the 
closest co-operation resulted, with great 
credit to both. 

General Bradley presented the Cobra 
idea at a conference with his staff and 
his corps commanders on 12 July. He 
characterized the battle of the hedge- 
rows as "tough and costly ... a slug- 
ger's match . . . too slow a process," and 
spoke of his hope for a swift advance 



mann, 30 Jul, EAP 105/22, 275-76; Hodgson, R-54 
and R-57. 



214 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



made possible by "three or four thou- 
sand tons of bombs" from the air. He 
stated that aggressive action and a readi- 
ness to take stiff losses if necessary were 
the keys to the success of Cobra. "If they 
[the Germans] get set [again]," he 
warned, "we go right back to this hedge 
fighting and you can't make any speed." 
He insisted, "This thing [Cobra] must 
be bold." 55 

Requisites for the Cobra operation 
were many and complex, and General 
Bradley could only estimate that they in 
fact were fulfilled. He assumed that the 
Germans in the Cotentin, under the 
pressure of the July offensive, would 
withdraw to an organized and stable 
defensive line. He had to determine 
where they would be likely to erect their 
defense. He had to be certain that the 
Americans were in contact with the 
main line of resistance when the opera- 
tion commenced. He had to be sure 
that the enemy line would not be so 
strongly fortified as to defy rapid pene- 
tration. He had to have firm ground 
beyond the Cotentin marshes that would 
not mire and delay mobile columns. 
He had to have a region traversed by a 
sufficient number of roads to permit 
quick passage of large numbers of troops. 
Finally, he had to be reasonably sure he 
could shake his armor loose before the 
Germans could recuperate from the 
penetration. 56 

Reasoning that the Germans would 
withdraw to the vicinity of the Lessay- 



65 FUSA G-3 Conf Notes, 12 Jul, FUSA G-3 
Misc File; Garth, Battle for Normandy, pp. 156, 
171. 

56 FUSA G-3 Conf Notes, 12 Jul; FUSA Outline 
Plan, Opn Cobra, 13 Jul; Bradley, Soldier's Story, 
p. 318. 



St. L6 highway, General Bradley chose 
that road as the Cobra line of departure. 
The Cobra battleground— the Cout- 
ances-St. L6 plateau— was to be south of 
the highway. It was a region of typical 
bocage, an area of small woods and 
small hills, land bounded on the west by 
the ocean, on the east by the Vire River. 
The sombre hedgerowed lowland gave 
way to rolling and cheerful terrain, the 
swamps disappeared, arable land was 
more plentiful and fertile, the farms 
more prosperous, the hedgerowed fields 
larger. Pastoral hillsides replaced the 
desolation of the prairies and the over- 
luxuriant foliage of the Carentan low- 
lands. Roads were plentiful, for the 
most part tarred two-lane routes. There 
were several wider highways— four main 
roads leading south and three principal 
east— west roads across the Cotentin. 
Road centers such as Coutances, 
Marigny, St. Gilles, le Mesnil-Herman, 
and Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly assured an 
adequate communications network. 
Streams were relatively small. 

A jumble of small ridge lines and low 
hills at first glance, the Coutances-St. L6 
plateau contains a series of east— west 
ridges that rise toward the south for 
about eight miles from the Lessay-St. 
L6 highway. Forming cross-compart- 
ments that would hinder an advance to 
the south, the ridges favored lateral 
movement across the First Army front. 
When in July the VII Corps had attacked 
down the Carentan— Periers isthmus to- 
ward the plateau, General Collins had 
indicated awareness of the advantages of 
swinging the offensive to a lateral axis 
in that region. He had pointed out 
that if infantry forces reached Marigny, 
armored troops might well drive west- 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



215 



ward along the highway from St. I_6 to 
Coutances in exploitation. 57 General 
Bradley's Cobra plan took advantage of 
the terrain in the same way. After air 
force bombs facilitated the infantry 
penetration, mobile troops were to veer 
westward and drive to the Coutances, 
thereby encircling the Germans on the 
west coast of the Cotentin. 

General Bradley called upon the VII 
Corps to make the main effort. He 
therefore changed the corps boundary to 
reduce the corps zone to a width of four 
and a half miles. He also enlarged 
General Collins' force to a total of 
three in fantry and two armored di- 



(Map 10) 



visions. 

As. outlined by the army plan, Cobra 
would start with a tremendous air bom- 
bardment designed to obliterate the Ger- 
man defenses along the Periers-St. L6 
highway opposite the VII Corps. Two 
infantry divisions, the gth and the 30th, 
were to make the penetration and keep 
the breach open by securing the towns 
of Marigny and St. Gilles, thereby seal- 
ing off the flanks of the breakthrough. 
Two armored divisions, the 3d and the 
2d (the latter after being moved from 
the V Corps sector), and a motorized in- 
fantry division, the ist (also after hav- 
ing been moved from the V to the VII 
Corps zone), were then to speed through 
the passageway— the three-mile-wide 
Marigny-St. Gilles gap— in exploitation. 
Tactical aircraft were to have already 
destroyed river bridges around the limits 
of the projected Cobra area to isolate 
the battlefield, and the exploiting forces 
on the left were to establish blocking 
positions on the eastern flank and along 



the southern edge of the battlefield to 
prevent the Germans from bringing in 
reinforcements. The forces in the main 
exploiting thrust, on the right (west), 
were to drive toward the Cotentin west 
coast near Coutances and encircle the 
enemy opposite VIII Corps. The VIII 
Corps in turn was to squeeze and de- 
stroy the surrounded enemy forces. At 
the conclusion of Cobra, the First Army 
would find itself consolidating on the 
Coutances-Caumont line. If the air 
bombardment and ground attack par- 
alyzed German reaction completely, the 
troops were to be ready to exploit enemy 
disorganization still further by con- 
tinuing offensive operations without 
consolidation. 58 

Since the larger and basic American 
maneuver defined by Montgomery was 
to be a sweep through the Cotentin 
around a 90-degree arc with the pivot at 
Caumont, the U.S. troops east of the 
Vire had the subsidiary role of contain- 
ing the enemy forces. While XIX 
Corps remained in place and supported 
the VII Corps effort, V Corps was to 
make a diversionary attack on the second 
day of the Cobra operation. Both corps 



Jun. 



r VII Corps Tactical Study of the Terrain, 28 



58 FUSA Outline Plan Cobra, 13 Jul, with artil- 
lery and tank destroyer fire support plans, over- 
lays, and amendments; FUSA Msg, 2055, 14 Jul, and 
IX TAC Msg, 17 Jul (Amendment 1 to IX TAC 
Order 84) . Both in FUSA G-3 Jnl. Annex 2 (Over- 
lay) to VIII Corps FO 8, 15 Jul; VII Corps Opns 
Memos 38 and 44, 15 and 20 Jul. 

Bombardment on 17 July rendered eight bridges 
around the Cobra battlefield unserviceable and 
damaged five; seven bridges escaped damage. Col- 
lins Msg, 1230, 23 Jul, 30th Div G—3 Jnl and File. 

For the British-American boundary changes that 
permitted the movement of the 2d Armored and 
1st Division from the V Corps to the VII Corps 
sector, see FUSA Msgs, 14 and 17 Jul, and V Corps 
Msg, 23 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; 21 AGp Dir, M-510, 
10 Jul; Bradley, Soldier's Story, pp. 326-28. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



217 



were to tie down German troops that 
might otherwise be moved to seal off a 
Cobra penetration. The XIX Corps 
was also to be ready to displace west of 
the Vire River and assume a new zone; 
as VII Corps veered westward toward 
Coutances, XIX Corps was to be pre- 
pared to take over the left portion of the 
VII Corps zone and drive to the south 
along the west bank of the river. 59 

The rather general concept expressed 
in the army outline plan was developed 
into a detailed course of action by the 
VII Corps. Corps planners also made two 
major modifications that affected the 
weight of the infantry assault and the 
routes as well as the relative strengths of 
the exploiting units. 

Because the gth and 30th Divisions 
were near exhaustion from their battle 
in the Taute and Vire region, General 
Collins requested and received the 4th 
Division as well, and assigned to it a role 
in the initial infantry assault. Though 
General Bradley had planned to retain 
the 4th in army reserve, he acceded to 
Collins' request in order to insure a 
quick follow-up of the air bombardment 
and a speedy penetration. 60 

More important was the modification 



59 FUSA Outline Plan Cobra, 13 Jul; Corlett to 
OCMH, 19 Jan 54. Plans at the beginning of July 
had envisioned the eventual displacement of the 
XIX Corps west of the Vire. These plans had 
projected an easy capture of St. L6, and the dis- 
placement was to have occurred south of that city. 
Map Overlay to accompany V Corps FO 9, 1 Jul, in 
V Corps Operations in the ETO, p. 103. 

60 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 98; 
VII Corps G-3 Ltr, Info Relative to Opn Cobra, 
29 Oct 45, and Ltr, Gen Collins to Maj Kenneth W. 
Hechler, 13 Nov 45, both cited on p. 27 of Hech- 
ler's VII Corps in Operation Cobra, a preliminary 
MS, Hist Div, USAFET, OCMH Files. The Hechler 
manuscript has been used extensively in the chap- 
ters dealing with the breakthrough. 



of the exploitation, which virtually 
changed the character of Cobra. Ac- 
cording to the army plan, the mobile 
forces were to use two main highways 
leading south, the Marigny-Carantilly 
road on the right (west) and the St. 
Gilles-Canisy road on the left. One 
armored division, presumably the 3d, 
after moving south for six miles to Car- 
antilly, was to swing in a wide arc for 
eleven miles— southwest, west, and north- 
west—to encircle Coutances in the corps 
main effort. The other armored divi- 
sion, the 2d, after pushing five miles 
south to Canisy, was to split into three 
columns and drive southeast, south, and 
southwest in order to protect the main 
effort developing toward Coutances. At 
the conclusion of its advance, the 2d 
Armored Division was to set up blocking 
positions across the fronts of both the 

VII and the VIII Corps-at Brehal, 
Cerences, Lengronne, St. Denis-le-Gast, 
and Hambye, also inferentially at Ville- 
baudon and Tessy-sur- Vire— and thereby 
across the entire Cotentin. In advance 
of the forces actually encircling and de- 
stroying the enemy near Coutances, the 
blocking positions were to prevent the 
Germans from bringing in reinforce- 
ments from the southeast and from the 
south. The motorized 1st Infantry 
Division was to provide reserve strength 
to reinforce either armored thrust, or 
both. 61 

Less concerned with the possible ar- 
rival of enemy reinforcements than with 
the strength already facing the VII and 

VIII Corps in the Cotentin, General 
Collins redistributed the power available 
to him. He re-formed and strengthened 



al FUSA Outline Plan Cobra, 13 Jul; see also 
Annex 2 (Overlay) to VIII Corps FO 8, 15 Jul. 



218 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the main attack force and rerouted il 
along a more direct approach to Cou- 
tances. He transformed the drive along 
the original and longer route to Cou- 
tances into a subsidiary and protective 
effort. He consolidated the blocking 
force on the left from three dispersed 
columns into two compact thrusts. 

As formulated by Collins, the plan of 
exploitation assigned the main encircle- 
ment to the motorized ist Division, with 
Combat Command B of the 3d Armored 
Division attached. Armor and infantry, 
after driving south to Marigny, were to 
attack westward along the excellent 
highway directly to Coutances in order 
to block and help destroy the Germans 
facing the VIII Corps. The 3d Ar- 
mored Division, less CCB, was to follow 
the original and more roundabout route 
to Coutances; it was to seize the southern 
exits of Coutances and provide flank 
protection on the south for the main 
effort. The 2d Armored Division, 
strengthened by the attachment of the 
2 2d Regimental Combat Team of the 
4th Division, was to drive along the left 
(east) flank of the corps. One thrust 
was to go directly to le Mesnil-Herman 
to cover the movement of the other ex- 
ploiting forces and prepare for further 
movement to Villebaudon and Tessy- 
sur-Vire, two critical points of entry for 
possible German reinforcements from 
the southeast. Another 2d Armored 
Division force was to be ready to go 
southwest from Canisy through Notre- 
Dame-de-Cenilly to block German rein- 
forcement from the south, but instead of 
driving all the way to Brehal near the 
Cotentin west coast it was to stop at 
Cerences. The armor was to halt at 
Cerences in order to provide a coastal 
corridor for an advance to the south by 



the VIII Corps, to avoid "a hell of a 
scramble" likely to come if VII and VIII 
Corps units intermingled south of Cout- 
ances, and to prevent the 2d Armored 
Division from being "strung out too 
badly." 62 

The Cobra plan in final form thus 
called for three infantry divisions, the 
gth, 4th, and 30th, to make the initial 
penetration close behind the air bom- 
bardment and create a "defended cor- 
ridor" for exploiting forces, which were 
to stream westward toward the sea. The 
motorized 1st Division, with CCB of the 
3d Armored Division attached, was to 
thrust directly toward Coutances. The 
reduced 3d Armored Division was to 
make a wider envelopment. The 2d 
Armored Division, with the 22d Infantry 
attached, was to establish blocking posi- 
tions from Tessy-sur-Vire to the Sienne 
River near Cerences and, in effect, make 
a still wider envelopment of Cou- 
tances. 63 

The VII Corps plan expressed a con- 
cept quite different from the army idea. 
The corps plan reinforced the initial in- 
fantry assault. It massed more power 
against Coutances. It strengthened 
blocking positions. It projected three 
encircling columns across the Cotentin 
and around Coutances. Instead of cut- 
ting across the VIII Corps zone of 
advance, it provided a corridor for the 
VIII Corps to exploit further a success- 
fully completed Cobra. As a result of 
these changes, Cobra was no longer a 
plan designed primarily to encircle 
Coutances after penetration; it had be- 

62 VII Corps FO 6 (rev) , 20 Jul; FUSA G-3 Conf 
Notes, 12 Jul; Ltr, Collins to Hechler, 9 Dec 45, 
quoted in Hechler, VII Corps in Opn Cobra, p. 
27. 

03 Annex 1 (Overlay) to VII Corps FO 6 (rev) , 
20 Jul. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



219 



come a plan to encircle and secure Cou- 
tances, disrupt the German defenses west 
of the Vire River, and set up a situation 
suitable for further exploitation, pre- 
sumably by the VIII Corps. 

Expecting the VII Corps ground 
attack to complete the penetration six 
hours after the bombardment, General 
Bradley originally scheduled the VIII 
Corps attack for that time. The failure 
of both preliminary operations in the 
VIII Corps zone caused him to modify 
this arrangement. If the German resist- 
ance to the pre-CoBRA operations at la 
Varde and St. Germain was typical of 
what the Americans could anticipate in 
Cobra, then six hours was not enough 
time. General Bradley consequently 
postponed the VIII Corps attack. If 
Cobra were launched in the morning, 
VIII Corps would attack at dawn of the 
following day; if Cobra were launched 
in the afternoon, VIII Corps would at- 
tack on the morning of the third day. 64 

One other change in plan came as a 
result of the preliminary operations. 
Instead of reverting to control of the 
83d Division, the 330th Infantry east of 
the Taute River flats remained a separate 
unit. Although still considered for- 
mally under control of the VIII Corps, 
the regiment was to begin the Cobra 
attack with the VII Corps. 

Since Cobra's success depended essen- 
tially on VII Corps progress, General 
Collins had six divisions under his con- 
trol, virtually an army. The armored 
units augmented the corps strength still 
more since both were "old type" ot 
"heavy" armored divisions, the only ones 
in the theater. All the divisions sched- 



e4 FUSA Msg to VIII Corps, 24 Jul, FUSA G-3 
Jnl. 



uled to make the VII Corps Cobra 
attack were combat experienced; three— 
the 2d Armored, the 1st, and the 9th— 
had fought in North Africa and Sicily. 
While the 9th and 30th manned the 
corps front in mid-July, the other divi- 
sions slated for commitment in Cobra 
assembled in the rear, careful to avoid 
contact with the enemy lest their identity 
be revealed. Tactical surprise was to be 
as important in Cobra as was the con- 
centration of strength. 

In keeping with the mission of VII 
Corps, First Army gave the corps a large 
part of its artillery: 9 of its 21 heavy 
battalions, 5 of its 1 9 mediums, and all 
7 of its nondivisional lights. Nondi- 
visional artillery pieces of all types under 
corps control totaled 258. 65 For the an- 
ticipated duration of the attack— five 
days— the army allocated the VII Corps 
almost 140,000 rounds of artillery am- 
munition. 66 Because ammunition re- 
strictions made all-inclusive prearranged 
fires difficult, the VII Corps Artillery 
(Brig. Gen. Williston B. Palmer) did not 
draw up an over-all fire plan. Attaching 
to the divisions all seven of the light bat- 
talions the army had made available, the 
corps suballocated to the divisions the 
greater part of its supply of ammuni- 
tion. 67 The division fire plans included 



66 VIII Corps had 108, XIX Corps 100, V Corps 
98. Draft MS, Arty in Opn Cobra, App. C to Gen 
Bd Rpts, ML-2229. 

m Ibid. VIII Corps received about 42,000 rounds, 
XIX Corps 31,000, and V Corps 27,000, for 105-mm. 
howitzers, 155-mm. howitzers and guns, 4.5-inch 
guns, 8-inch howitzers and guns, 240-mm. howit- 
zers, and 90-mm. guns. 

e ' Each armored division received two self- 
propelled battalions, the gth Division received two 
towed battalions, and the 30th Division received 
one towed battalion. The 30th also received the 
g2d Chemical Battalion, less one company. VII 
Corps Opns Memo 45, 22 Jul. 



220 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



concentrations on known or suspected 
enemy installations, some to strike as far 
as 3,000 yards south of the Periers— St. 
L6 highway, most to fall on the main 
enemy defenses near the road. All fire 
plans emphasized striking specific targets 
rather than furnishing general support. 68 
The VII Corps Artillery was to control 
174 pieces of medium and heavy caliber, 
plus the artillery of the divisions initially 
in reserve. Adjacent corps artillery 
units were to assist. 

The major preattack bombardment 
was to come from the air. Planes were 
to assume the normal artillery missions 
of disrupting the enemy's communica- 
tions, neutralizing his reserves, and 
reducing his will to fight. Far beyond 
the resources of the artillery available to 
the First Army, the air bombardment 
that General Bradley had in mind en- 
compassed terrifying power. To be cer- 
tain that air commanders appreciated 
the extent of the support desired, Gener- 
al Bradley went to England on ig July 
to present his requirements to the air 
chiefs in person. 

Bradley's primary desire was to obtain 
"blast effect" by the use of heavy bomb- 
ers. 69 He wanted the air attack con- 
centrated in mass, the planes to strike in 
a minimum duration of time. To 
avoid excessive cratering, which might 
impede the ground troops, and to pre- 
vent the destruction of villages located 
at critical road junctions, he requested 
that only relatively light bombs be 



68 VII Corps Letters, Primary Target List— Opera- 
tion Cobra— Artillery and Air, and Secondary 
Target List . . . , both dated 20 July, list 42 
primary targets and 75 secondary targets. 

60 FUSA G-3 Conf, 12 Jul; Garth, Battle for 
Normandy, p. 165. 



used. 70 He designated a rectangular 
target immediately south of the Periers- 
St. L6 highway, 7,000 yards wide and 
2,500 yards deep. To prevent acci- 
dental bombing of VII Corps front-line 
troops, Bradley planned to withdraw 
them 800 yards from the bomb target. 
Though 800 yards left no real margin 
of safety, General Bradley wanted the 
ground troops close enough to the tar- 
get for immediate exploitation after the 
bombardment. To provide additional 
protection for the ground forces, Gen- 
eral Bradley recommended that the 
planes make their bomb runs laterally 
across the front, parallel to the front 
lines, instead of approaching over the 
heads of American troops and perpen- 
dicular to the front. Recognizing that 
pilots preferred a perpendicular ap- 
proach to minimize antiaircraft inter- 
ference, he suggested that the planes use 
the sun for concealment— if the attack 
occurred in the morning, the bombers 
could fly from east to west; in the after- 
noon, they could attack over a reverse 
course. In either case, the straight road 
between Periers and St. L6 would be 
an unmistakably clear landmark as a 
flank guide. 

For their part, the air chiefs were un- 
able to meet all the requirements. 
Although they promised blast effect by 
a mass attack, agreed to use compara- 
tively light bombs, and concurred in the 
choice of the target, they demurred at 
making lateral bomb runs and objected 
to the slender 800-yard safety factor. 

A lateral bomb run, the air chiefs 



70 FUSA G-3 Conf, 12 Jul; Ltrs, Leigh-Mallory 
to Bradley, 19 Jul, and Bradley to Leigh-Mallory, 
23 Jul, OCMH Files; Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 
34i- 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



221 



pointed out, meant approaching the tar- 
get area on its narrow side, that is to 
say along a narrow corridor. In an 
operation on the scale requested by Gen- 
eral Bradley, this would cause conges- 
tion over the target and make the com- 
pletion of the attack impossible in the 
brief time desired. To gain the effect 
of mass, the bombers had to approach 
from the north over the heads of the 
ground troops. Admitting that this 
posed some dangers to the ground 
troops, the air chiefs noted that the high- 
way would serve as a clearly distinguish- 
able "no bomb line." In addition, the 
less effective enemy aircraft interference 
during a perpendicular approach would 
enable pilots and bombardiers to bomb 
more accurately. 71 

Despite the fact that the highway 
made an excellent landmark, the air 
chiefs wished a true safety ground fac- 
tor of 3,000 yards. They nevertheless 
agreed, in light of General Bradley's 
desire to get the ground troops to the 
target area quickly, to reduce the safety 
factor to 1,500 yards. Bradley, for his 
part, refused to withdraw his troops 
more than 1,000 yards from the high- 
way. 72 The final result was a further 
compromise. The ground tToops weTe 
to withdraw only 1,200 yards, but the 
heavy bombers were to strike no closer 
to the ground troops than 1,450 yards. 
The interval of 250 yards was to be 



71 Eighth AF Draft Ltr, Summary of Ping and 
Execution of Missions 24 and 25 Jul 44, n.d., 
Rpts of Bombing Errors Made on 25 Jul, 8 Aug 
44, USAF Hist Sec Files. 

72 Some commanders, notably General Eddy of 
the gth Division, later protested any withdrawal to 
General Bradley, for they were reluctant to give 
up terrain acquired with much difficulty. Bradley 
Soldier's Story, pp. 340-41. 



covered by fighter-bombers, which at- 
tacked at lower altitudes than the heavies 
and thus could bomb more accurately. 

Participating units in the Cobra air 
attack were to include all the heavy 
bombers of the Eighth U.S. Air Force 
and all the medium bombers and 
fighter-bombers of the Ninth U.S. Air 
Force. Fighter planes from the Eighth 
U.S. Air Force and from the RAF 2nd 
Tactical Air Force were to fly cover. 
The RAF Heavy Bomber Command, 
with planes equipped to carry only large 
bombs, were excluded because of Brad- 
ley's desire to avoid excessive destruc- 
tion and cratering. 73 Air Chief Mar- 
shal Tedder, Deputy Supreme Com- 
mander, provided top-level supervision. 
Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, com- 
mander of the AEAF, was to set the time 
and the date of the operation. General 
Brereton, commanding the Ninth U.S. 
Air Force, was to plan the attack of 
the bombers. General Quesada, com- 
mander of the IX Tactical Air Com- 
mand, was to co-ordinate the air attack 
with the ground forces. 74 

The air bombardment was to begin 
eighty minutes before the ground attack 
with a twenty-minute strike by 350 
fighteT-bombers. Most fighter-bombers 
were to attack the narrow target strip 
immediately south of and adjacent to the 
road, although several nights were to 
bomb and strafe six enemy strongpoints 
north of the Periers— St. L6 highway. 75 



73 Ltr, Leigh-Mallory to Bradley, 19 Jul; Eighth 
AF, Spec Rpt on Opns 24 and 25 Jul, USAF Hist 
Sec Files. 

74 Eighth AF, Tactical Mission Rpts, Operations 
492 and 494, 24 and 25 July, USAF Hist Sec Files, 
give a most straightforward account of the air 
operation. 

76 VII Corps Opns Memo 45, 22 Jul. 



222 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Following immediately, 1,800 heavy 
bombers, in an hour-long strike, were to 
blast the main target area, a rectangular 
"carpet" adjacent to and south of the 
narrow strip. Upon conclusion of the 
heavy bomber attack— the beginning of 
the ground attack— 350 fighter-bombers 
were to strafe and bomb the narrow strip 
again for twenty minutes. Ten minutes 
after the completion of this strike, 396 
medium bombers were to attack the 
southern half of the rectangle for forty- 
five minutes. Throughout the duration 
of the bombardment, 500 fighters were 
to fly bomber cover. 76 

For the ground troops, the narrow 
strip was the threshold, the target area 
the entrance to the Marigny-St. Gilles 
gap. To blast open a passageway on 
the ground, approximately 2,500 planes 
in a bombardment lasting two hours and 
twenty-five minutes were to strike a tar- 
get area of six square miles with almost 
5,000 tons of high explosive, jellied gaso- 
line, and white phosphorus. 

This kind of air power, many times 
the equivalent of available artillery, re- 
quired careful co-ordination to avoid 
striking U.S. troops, particularly since 
the employment of heavy bombers in- 
tensified the usual problems and dangers 
of close air support. The size of the in- 
dividual plane bomb load gave each 
bomber a considerable casualty-pro- 
ducing potentiality, but since heavy 
bombers attacked in units, with a lead 



76 AEAF Opn Cobra, 20 Jul, AEAF/TS.13165/ 
Air, USAF Hist Sec Files, set the planning in 
motion; IX TAC Opns Order 88 and 89, 19 and 20 
Jul, and Annex 4 to VII Corps FO 6, 20 Jul, are 
the basic planning documents. See also Leigh- 
Mallory, "Despatch," Fourth Supplement to the 
London Gazette of December 31, 1946, p. 65; Brad- 
ley, Soldier's Story, p. 341; AAF III, pp. 231-32. 



bombardier controlling the bomb release 
of a dozen or so planes, an error in com- 
putation or a failure to identify a land- 
mark properly could easily result in dis- 
aster. The absence of direct radio com- 
munication between the troops on the 
ground and the heavy bombers in flight 
made reliance on visual signals necessary. 
To define the northern limit of the 
heavy bomber target area during the air 
attack, artillery was to place red smoke 
every two minutes on the narrow fighter- 
bomber strip. 77 This precaution was 
far from foolproof, for strategic aircraft 
bombed from high altitudes, and ground 
haze, mist, dust, or a sudden change of 
wind direction might render visual sig- 
nals worthless. Ground troops on the 
front were to withdraw one hour before 
the air attack, leaving a protective shell 
of light forces in position until twenty 
minutes before the air bombardment, 
when they too were to withdraw. After 
the withdrawal, the ground troops were 
to mark their locations with fluorescent 
panels. All units participating in Cobra 
were to have repainted the Allied white- 
star insignia on their vehicles and 
tanks. 78 

In the same way that infantry failure 
to follow an artillery preparation closely 
tends to cancel the effect of a well-de- 
livered concentration, the inability of 
the Cobra ground attack to take quick 
advantage of the bombardment would 
waste the blast effect of the bombs on the 
enemy. The ground troops were to 
cross the three quarters of a mile that 



77 VII Corps Opns Memo 45, 22 Jul; Annex 3 
to 30th Div FO 13, Air Support Plan, 22 Jul. 

78 Sketch showing prebombardment withdrawal, 
n.d., gth Div G-3 Jnl and File; VII Corps Opns 
Memo 43, 20 Jul; Bradley, Effect of Air Power, p. 
104. 



COBRA PREPARATIONS 



223 



separated them from the air target at the 
conclusion of the heavy bomber strike 
while fighter-bombers still were strafing 
and bombing the narrow strip immedi- 
ately south to the Periers-St. L6 road. 
The arrival of the infantry at the line 
of departure and the conclusion of the 
fighter-bomber strike were to be simul- 
taneous. Medium bombers were then 
to commence attacking the southern 
half of the carpet and to continue until 
the ground troops were across the road 
and the narrow strip. To insure co- 
ordination, the units on the ground 
were to move forward at the rate of one 
hundred feet a minute. 79 Artillery was 
to deliver normal preparatory fires, rein- 
forced by tank destroyer concentrations 
and antiaircraft artillery ground fire, on 
the area between the troops and the 
bombarding planes. 

One hour after the ground attack 
jumped off, all the fighter-bombers of 
the IX Tactical Air Command and one 
group of RAF Typhoon planes were to 
be available to support the First Army 
for the rest of the day with assault area 
cover, offensive fighter operations, armed 
reconnaissance, and air support request 
missions. Six hours after the ground 
attack, medium bombers, after having 
returned to England for refueling and 
reloading, were to become available for 

79 Misc Notes, n.d., 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File; 
Overlay, Amendment 1 to Incl 1, Annex 3 to 30th 
Div FO 13, 22 Jul; VII Corps Opns Memo 43, 20 
Jul. 



additional missions as necessary. Dive 
bombers were to be ready for missions 
on one hour's notice. If the infantry 
divisions made rapid progress and the 
exploiting forces were employed at once, 
fighter-bombers were to furnish column 
cover by flying protection and reconnais- 
sance for the armored spearheads. 80 

This was the plan on which the Allies 
counted so much, and on 23 July Allied 
weather experts expressed a cautious 
hope that Cobra might soon be 
launched. Predicting that a slight over- 
cast might break in the late morning of 
24 July and that morning haze and light 
fog would disappear later that day, the 
forecasters reported that the weather on 
24 and 25 July would be favorable for 
ground operations and moderately favor- 
able for air activity. 81 After a week of 
waiting, the Allies found the prospect 
tempting. With Caen and St. L6 in 
Allied hands, the arrival of fresh infan- 
try and armored divisions on the Conti- 
nent, mounting stocks of supplies and 
equipment increasingly available, and 
the Germans suffering from attrition, a 
lack of supplies, and an absence of air 
support, the situation appeared favorable 
for the breakthrough operation. Air 
Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory gave the 
green light, and the dormant body of 
Cobra prepared to strike. 

80 IX TAC Opns Order 90, 20 Jul, IX TAC Opns 
Cobra, USAF Hist Sec Files. 

si 21 Weather Squadron Msg, 23 Jul, 30th Div 
C-3 Jnl and File. 



CHAPTER XII 



Cobra 



The Opposition 

While awaiting the signal for Cobra 
to begin, intelligence officers pondered 
some troublesome questions. 1 Did the 
enemy defenses on the Lessay-St. L6 road 
represent the actual main battle position? 
Were there enough mobile German re- 
serves assembled locally to counter the 
attack successfully? What major re- 
serves were available to the Germans? 
Where were they? Where were they 
likely to be committed? Was the Luft- 
waffe capable of intervention? Would 
the Germans employ the V-i, V-2, or 
some other secret weapon against Cobra? 

Barring the appearance of miracle 
weapons and a miraculous resuscitation 
of the German Air Force, the enemy was 
thought capable of only defensive action. 
Neither the LXXXIV Corps nor the // 
Parachute Corps seemed to have local 
reserves capable of intervening with ef- 
fect. Nor did either Seventh Army or 
Panzer Group West appear to have ex- 
cess troops that might be committed 
against Cobra. Even if the Germans 
somehow assembled a reserve for a coun- 



1 Material on intelligence is from: FUSA Intel 
Annex to Opn Plan Cobra, 16 Jul; FUSA G-2 Est 
g and 10, 10 and 18 Jul; Annex 2 to VII Corps 
FO 6, 17 Jul; VII Corps G-2 Est, 17 Jul; VIII 
Corps G-2 Est 4, 15 Jul; JIC (44) 301 (O) (Final) , 
Weaknesses in Germany's Capacity to Resist, 20 Jul 
44, JIC Papers, 1944, Pogue Files; TUSA G-2 Per 
R P l 35, 16 Jul. 



terattack from the base of the Cotentin, 
they would need more time to concen- 
trate sufficient forces than the Americans 
thought they themselves needed to 
achieve the success they expected of 
Cobra. Though the Germans might 
attempt a rigid defense of the Periers- 
St. L6 line, deficiencies in manpower 
and supplies made an effective defense 
doubtful. The most likely course of 
enemy action, then, seemed to be a 
gradual withdrawal accompanied by 
strong delaying action in terrain favor- 
able to defense, probably along three 
successive natural defensive lines: be- 
tween Coutances and Canisy, in the Gav- 
ray area, and at the base of the Cotentin 
near Avranches. 

The Americans estimated that the 
enemy troops facing VII and VIII Corps 
numbered no more than 17,000 men 
with less than 100 tanks in support— a 
slight force to resist the power of more 
than five times that strength assembled 
for Cobra. Since captured letters and 
documents and prisoner-of-war interro- 
gations indicated that the German sol- 
dier was weary of war and had no real 
hope of victory, the fierce resistance met 
in the hedgerows seemed inexplicable. 
Perhaps the Germans would suddenly 
give way during Cobra. Similarly, on 
the strategic level, it seemed impossible 
that Germany could hold out much 
longer. A shortage of oil had become 



COBRA 



225 



the major factor limiting strategic and 
operational efficiency both in the air and 
on the ground. Deficiencies in heavy 
armament had dropped the tank strength 
o£ panzer divisions to an average of about 
70 percent of tables of equipment. A 
scarcity of drivers, as well as of oil, had 
intensified a shortage of motor transport 
that was further increased by wastage far 
exceeding vehicle replacements and cap- 
tured materiel. All types of ammuni- 
tion had deteriorated in quality and 
quantity. The same could be said for 
manpower. Propaganda inside Ger- 
many seemed to be losing its force and 
influence. Yet there was no evidence to 
suggest that anything but invasion of 
Germany proper would produce a col- 
lapse of the home front. Both at home 
and on the battlefield, the Germans re- 
fused to accept the defeat that from the 
Allied point of view seemed inevitable 
and only a matter of time. 

The significant factors on the battle- 
field appeared to be the continued lag 
in infantry build-up and the piecemeal 
employment of reserves as they reached 
the battle area. As a result, instead of 
massing reserves for a co-ordinated coun- 
teroffensive, the Germans had dissipated 
them. The Germans had been com- 
pelled to assume a purely defensive at- 
titude, and were forced to fight a con- 
stant delaying action from one hastily 
prepared line or position to another 
while mounting local counterattacks in 
company or battalion strength. With- 
out a strategic reserve, the Germans were 
stripping their Breton defenses and de- 
nuding their French Mediterranean 
coastal positions to meet Allied pressure 
in Normandy. Only the continued fear 
of another Allied amphibious assault in 



the Pas-de-Calais kept strong forces im- 
mobile there. It was reasonable to sup- 
pose that the Germans would probably 
maintain an aggressive defensive atti- 
tude along the entire battle front in Nor- 
mandy and try to amass reserves for a 
major counterattack sometime in the fu- 
ture, but not in time to affect Cobra. 

Allied estimates were quite correct, 
even though Kluge, commander in chief 
in the west who had also formally taken 
command of Army Group B, had had 
some success in building up the front in 
Normandy. Kluge had managed to se- 
cure four infantry divisions from south- 
ern France and the Pas-de-Calais (more 
were promised him), and he was using 
them to replace armored divisions on 
the Panzer Group West front. His mo- 
tive was twofold: to keep the panzer di- 
visions from being "ground to pieces," 
because if that happened "there won't 
be anything left"; and to create a mobile 
reserve. Eberbach, the Panzer Group 
West commander, helped Kluge by tak- 
ing drastic steps to assemble transport 
and thus speed the arrival of the infan- 
try divisions. Eberbach also feared that 
if the infantry divisions arriving as re- 
placements came too slowly, little of the 
panzer divisions would be left to be re- 
lieved. Between 10 and 22 July, the 
four newly arrived infantry divisions re- 
placed five panzer divisions. 2 Operation 
Goodwood virtually nullified this 

2 The 277^ Division replaced the 9th SS Pan- 
zer Division on 10 July; the 272^ relieved the 1st 
and the izth SS Panzer Divisions during the night 
of 13 July; the zjist replaced the 10th SS Panzer 
Division on 17 July; and the 326th relieved the 
2d Panzer Division on 22 July. Telecon, Kluge and 
Jodl, 1828, 13 Jul. OB WEST KTB, Anlage 615; 
"Unterrichtung ueber die Arbeitsweise des Stages 
Ob. West . . . ," 20 Jul, OB WEST KTB, Anlage 
775; Hodgson, R-54. 



226 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



achievement by forcing the recommit- 
ment of armor. 

The reason for Kluge's primary con- 
cern with the Panzer Group West por- 
tion of the front— that part facing the 
British— was the terrain around Caen. 
Montgomery's pressure, climaxed by the 
Goodwood attack, indicated that both 
Montgomery and Kluge were acting ac- 
cording to the dictates of the terrain. 
The little offensive planning on higher 
German echelons during July turned 
about the idea of launching an attack in 
the Caen region some time in August. 3 
As a result of preoccupation with both 
the vulnerability of the Panzer Group 
West sector and its excellence for offen- 
sive operations, the Germans virtually 
overlooked the Seventh Army front. 
{Map IV) 

Dissatisfied with the strength of the 
Cotentin defenses, Kluge advised Haus- 
ser, the Seventh Army commander, that 
his mission was to avoid being pushed 
back into the interior of France, where 
the Allies could swing wide and outflank 
the German positions near Caen. Spe- 
cifically, Hausser was to remove the two 
armored divisions on his front— the 2d 
SS Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr— 
and concentrate them under army con- 
trol to be used flexibly against threatened 
penetrations. Hausser 's only immediate 
move in this direction was to detach two 
tank companies from the 2d SS Panzer 
Division and place them in the army re- 
serve. Before complying further, he 
awaited the arrival, of the 363d Infantry 
Division (coming from the Fifteenth 
Army), which was not to reach the Sev- 
enth Army sector until August. Haus- 



8 Ltr, Rommel to Kluge, 15 Jul, Seventh Army 
KTB, Anlagen, Chefsachen; see Hodgson, R-57. 



ser might have taken Panzer Lehr out of 
the line by substituting for it the 275th 
Infantry Division, which he retained un- 
der army control immediately behind 
Panzer Lehr. He might have replaced 
the entire 2d SS Panzer Division with the 
353d Infantry Division, which Choltitz, 
the LXXXIV Corps commander, with- 
drew to form a reserve of his own. But 
Hausser hesitated to pull armor out of 
the front line because he felt that "the 
defensive capabilities of an infantry di- 
vision are less" than those of an armored 
division. Apparently believing that the 
type of terrain furnished adequate reason 
for maintaining the static defense al- 
ready erected, Hausser did little more 
than clamor for battlefield replacements, 
additional artillery and supplies, and the 
sight of air cover. 4 

Yet Hausser was concerned. The bat- 
tle of the hedgerows had worn down his 
forces at an alarming rate. The little 
that remained of the static units that had 
fought since the invasion lacked trans- 
port, adequate equipment, and even 
weapons. 5 The more recently arrived 
units in the Cotentin were also suffering 
the ravages of attrition. Had the 
Americans continued their pressure, a 
decisive result would probably have oc- 
curred within a month. But Hausser 
and other German commanders expected 
that the Americans would be too impa- 
tient to await this kind of decision, and 
they looked for signs of a big new U.S. 
offensive. Hausser watched where it 
seemed more likely to begin— east of the 
Vire— and in doing so he failed to per- 



4 Seventh Army KTB, 20 Jul; Zimmerman Tele- 
con, 1320, 15 Jul, and Telecon, Helmdach and 
Tempelhoff, 2240, 25 Jul, AGp B KTB; Hodgson, 
R-57- 

5 See MS # 8-731 (Fahrmbacher) . 



COBRA 



227 



ceive the build-up west of the Vire. He 
could not conceive of a major attack in 
strength taking place between St. L6 and 
Coutances because the terrain there was 
not conducive to a massive effort. Al- 
though Choltitz on 23 July reported a 
concentration of strong armored forces 
near the Cotentin west coast, the Seventh 
Army headquarters denied categorically 
that any indications of an immediately 
impending attack existed. 6 Part of the 
reason for the lack of perception at 
higher headquarters was an overaware- 
ness of the importance of the terrain, a 
feeling that the menacing strength of 
the British and Canadian units encour- 
aged. It was this that made the German 
surprise even greater when Cobra came. 

Facing the U.S. troops poised to exe- 
cute Cobra and holding positions gener- 
ally along the Lessay-St. L6 highway, the 
LXXXIV Corps controlled many units 
but relatively few troops. In the coastal 
sector, near Lessay, were the battered 
remnants of the 24 3d Division and beside 
it the 9ist, with control over remaining 
elements of the 77th Division and the 
exhausted kampfgruppe of the 265th Di- 
vision (the depleted 15th Parachute 
Regiment of the 5th Parachute Division 
had moved east of the Vire River to pro- 
vide a reserve for the 3d Parachute Di- 
vision in the St. L6 sector). The still- 
strong 2d SS Panzer Division (augment- 
ed by the separate (independent) 6th 
Parachute Regiment) and the consider- 
ably weakened forces of the iyth SS Pan- 
zer Grenadier Division defended in the 
Periers area. Immediately to the east 
was the 5th Parachute Division, recently 
arrived from Brittany and controlling 



' Maj. Kenneth W. Hechler, The Enemy Build- 
up Prior to Operation Cobra, MS, OCMH Files. 



only one regiment. Panzer Lehr (aug- 
mented by 450 combat troops of the 
badly damaged Kampfgruppe Heinz of 
the 275th Division and by 500 partially 
trained combat troops of an inexperi- 
enced regiment of the 5th Parachute Di- 
vision, plus some elements of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division), occupied the greater 
part of the ground between the Taute 
and the Vire, but its right boundary was 
two miles short of the Vire River. On 
the right (east) of the LXXXIV Corps 
boundary and adjacent to Panzer Lehr, 
650 battle-fatigued combat troops of the 
352d Division plus some attached units, 
all under the control of the // Parachute 
Corps, occupied a two-mile front on the 
west bank of the Vire. 

Each of these units held a portion of 
the front. In immediate reserve were 
infantry, reconnaissance, and engineer 
battalions in the process of rehabilita- 
tion. Forming the LXXXIV Corps re- 
serve, the tired 353d Division was as- 
sembled south of Periers and behind the 
5th Parachute Division. In Seventh 
Army reserve the 275th Division, newly 
arrived from Brittany and controlling 
two regiments, was stationed behind 
Panzer Lehr. Two infantry companies 
and two tank companies of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division were also under the 
Seventh Army control as a mobile task 
force in reserve. 7 

The troops directly opposing the U.S. 



7 Panzer Lehr Division Monthly Status Rpts for 
Jun and Jul 44, OKH Generalinspektor der Pan- 
zertruppen, Zustandsberichte , Heer, Jun-Aug 44; 
AGp B KTB, 15.1-4.X.44; AGp B la Letztemel- 
dungen, 8.VI.-10.VIII.44, and la Tagesmeldungen, 
6.VI.-31.VIU.44; Seventh Army KTB "(Draft) 6.VI- 
16.VIII.44; MS # A-902 (Bayerlein) ; MS # A-973 
(Schmidt) ; MS # A-975 (Schmidt) ; MS # B-820 
(Wilke) ; Hodgson, R-54; Hechler, The Enemy 
Build-up PtioT to Operation Cobra. 



228 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



VII Corps on the morning of 24 July 
totaled about 30,000 men, quite a few 
more than the Americans estimated. 
The actual number of combat effectives 
on or near the front between the Taute 
and the Vire was much less, perhaps only 
5,000. Of these, approximately 3,200 
combat effectives of Panzer Lehr and its 
attached units were directly in the path 
of Cobra. 

Authorized almost 15,000 men, Panzer 
Lehr was seriously reduced in strength. 
Its losses had been almost entirely among 
its combat elements. Its two regiments 
of armored infantry, its tank regiment, 
and its tank destroyer battalion had to- 
taled slightly more than 7,000 combat 
effectives and over 200 tanks and tank 
destroyers at full strength; on 24 July 
only about 2,200 combat troops and per- 
haps 45 serviceable armored vehicles 
held the main line of resistance. These 
organic troops of Panzer Lehr and its at- 
tached units were to receive the full 
force of the Cobra bombardment. 

The Panzer Lehr front extended 
about three miles along the Periers-St. 
L6 highway. Several small infantry 
groups formed centers of resistance on 
an outpost line north of the highway, 
but most of the troops were deployed 
just south of the road. On the left 
(west) the attached parachute regiment 
had formed a strongpoint and roadblock 
near the road to Marigny. On the right 
(east) Kampfgruppe Heinz, near the vil- 
lage of Hebecrevon, had organized five 
strongpoints, each in the strength of a 
reinforced infantry platoon with a few 
tanks or tank destroyers and light anti- 
tank guns. In the center, organic infan- 
try and tanks had erected three strong- 
points, each in battalion strength, be- 
tween Marigny and St. Gilles, and three 



smaller roadblocks to cover the highway 
to St. Gilles and secondary roads near 
the village of la Chapelle-en-Juger. If 
the Americans succeeded in crossing the 
Periers— St. L6 highway, Bayerlein was 
prepared to commit regimental reserves- 
several companies of infantry and a few 
tanks— located along a country road just 
south of and parallel to the main high- 
way. 

Except for the combatants, the battle- 
field was deserted. Most of the French 
inhabitants had evacuated their homes 
and departed the battle zone. The few 
who remained in the Cobra area took 
refuge in isolated farmhouses, most of 
them, fortunately, outside the air bom- 
bardment target. 8 

Bombardment 

Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory had 
set the Cobra H Hour at 1300, 24 July, 
and on the morning of 24 July he went 
to Normandy to observe the operation. 
He found the sky overcast, the clouds 
thick. Deciding that visibility was in- 
adequate for the air attack, he ordered 
a postponement. Unfortunately, he was 
too late. The message announcing his 
decision reached England only a few 
minutes before the actual bombing was 
to commence in France. Although the 
planes were ordered to return without 
making their bomb runs, it was impossi- 
ble to get them all back. 

In accordance with the original plan- 
ning, six groups of fighter-bombers of the 
IX TAC and three bombardment di- 



8 Joseph Toussaint, La ' Percee Americaine a 
I'Ouest de Saint-Ld (La Chapelle-Enjuger dans la 
Bataille) (Coutances, France: Editions Notre-Dame, 
n.d.) , pp. 75ft. 



COBRA 



229 



visions (about 1,600 heavy bombers) of 
the Eighth U.S. Air Force had departed 
their bases in England and headed to- 
ward France. Only the medium bomb- 
ers, scheduled to bomb last, had not 
left the ground when the postponement 
order came. Of the six groups of fighter- 
bombers in the air, three received 
the recall order before they dropped 
their bombs. The other three bombed 
the general target area, the narrow strip, 
and certain targets north of the Periers- 
St. L6 highway, with no observed results. 
The postponement message to the heavy 
bombers stayed only a few planes in the 
last formation. 

Ignorant that Cobra had been post- 
poned, pilots of the great majority of the 
heavy bombers guided their big craft on 
toward the target. Because no precise 
radio channels had been designated for 
emergency communication, there was no 
certain means of transmitting the news 
to the planes. While air force person- 
nel in France attempted to get word to 
the craft aloft, the first formation of 500 
planes arrived over the target area. For- 
tunately, they found visibility so poor 
that no attack was made. The second 
formation found cloud conditions so bad 
that only 35 aircraft, after making three 
bomb runs to identify the target, re- 
leased their loads. Over 300 bombers 
of the third formation, with slightly im- 
proved weather conditions, dropped their 
bombs— about 550 tons of high explosive 
and 135 tons of fragmentation— before 
the postponement message finally got 
through to cancel the remainder of the 
strike. 9 

The 24 July bombing was unfortunate, 



8 AAF III, 228-30; Eighth AF Tactical Mission 
Rpt, Opn 492, 24 Jul, USAF Hist Sec Files. 



not only because of the likelihood of 
negating the surprise planned for Cobra, 
but also because it killed 25 men and 
wounded 131 of the 30th Division. 10 
The tragedy was the result of one acci- 
dent. The lead bombardier of a heavy 
bomber formation had had difficulty 
moving his bomb release mechanism and 
had inadvertently salvoed a portion of 
his load. The fifteen aircraft flying in 
the formation followed his example and 
released their bombs. The bomb load 
fell 2,000 yards north of the Periers-St. 
L6 highway. 11 

On the ground, VII Corps had exe- 
cuted the initial part of the Cobra at- 
tack by withdrawing the front-line troops 
of the gth and 30th Divisions several 
hundred yards to the north. The poor 
weather conditions had prompted com- 
manders to wonder whether the lack of 
visibility would cancel the air bombard- 
ment, but General Collins was character- 
istically optimistic. He believed that 
the planes would get through the haze. 
Even if the heavy bombers were not able 
to take part in the air attack, he felt that 
the fighter-bombers would be on hand 



10 The death of a liaison officer who was sent 
from the 8th Infantry (4th Division) to the 120th 
Infantry (30th Division) is included in these 
figures, which are taken from F. P. Halas' Notes, 
ML-2244. General Collins' Talk cites the same 
figures. ARGUMENT to V-E Day, page 230, gives 
the casualty figures as 16 killed and 64 wounded. 

11 AAF III, 230. Other short bomb releases did 
not affect the ground troops: one fighter-bomber 
pilot made a mistake in landmark identification 
and dropped his bombs on an American ammuni- 
tion dump; when another plane was hit by enemy 
flak, a bombardier in a reflex action touched the 
toggle switch, released his load on an American 
airfield, and thereby destroyed two bomb-loaded 
and manned aircraft on the ground and damaged 
others. Enemy antiaircraft artillery fire destroyed 
three heavy bombers that participated in the 
attack. 



230 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




and that their bombardment would give 
sufficient impetus for the attack. He 
therefore told his subordinate com- 
manders to go ahead. If the fighter- 
bomber effort proved insufficient, he 
expected the heavy bombers to return 
on the following day. 1E 

Notice that the air bombardment had 
been postponed reached the ground 
troops a short time before the bombard- 
ment actually commenced. What then 
was the meaning of the bombs that were 
dropped? What was the mission of the 
ground troops? Was Cobra delayed? 
Or were the ground troops to initiate 
Cobra on the basis of the incomplete 
air effort? 

"Telecon, CoUins and Hobbs, 1115, 24 Jul, 30th 
Oiv G-3 Jnl and Tile. 



While discussion took place at higher 
headquarters, General Collins decided 
that the VII Corps had to attack. With- 
drawal of the 9th and 30th Divisions had 
created a vacuum that the Germans 
would fill unless the infantry returned 
to the vicinity of the Periers-St. L6 high- 
way. If Cobra was to start without 
henefit of the full air preparation, the in- 
fantry could simply continue the attack, 
cross the line of departure at the high- 
way, and attempt to pry open the 
Marigny-St, Gilles gap. I£, on the other 
hand, postponement in the air meant 
postponement on the ground, then the 
same conditions on which the Cobra 
plan was based had to be restored. 
General Collins therefore told the 9th, 
4th, and §oth Divisions, the units sched- 



COBRA 



231 



uled to initiate the Cobra offensive, to 
make a limited objective attack to the 
Periers— St. L6 highway. Maybe they 
would continue beyond the highway, 
maybe not. 13 

Half an hour later General Collins 
learned that Cobra was postponed on the 
ground as well as in the air, but to pre- 
vent the enemy from moving north of 
the Periers-St. L6 highway, the three 
infantry divisions were to attack at 1300 
as though Cobra were going into effect. 
In reality, the divisions were to restore 
the front line that had existed before 
the air bombardment. 14 If the incom- 
plete air bombardment had not fore- 
warned the Germans and destroyed the 
tactical surprise on which General Brad- 
ley counted so heavily, the German main 
line of resistance would be unchanged 
for another Cobra effort on the follow- 
ing day. Until Cobra kicked off as 
planned, the divisions in the VII Corps 
exploiting force were to remain in their 
concealed bivouacs. 15 

The abortive air bombardment on 24 
July had obviously alerted the Germans 
to the American ground attack that fol- 
lowed. Enemy artillery fire began to 
fall in large volume. All three assault 
divisions had a difficult time that after- 
noon. 

On the corps right, the 9th Division 
committed its three regiments: the 60th 
Infantry battled enemy troops that had 



13 Telecons, Collins and Hobbs, 1205, 24 Jul, and 
Stephens and Hassenfelt, 1207, 24 Jul, 30th Div 
G-3 Jnl and File; 4th Div Msg (Gen Barton) , 1200, 
24 Jul, 4th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

11 Telecon, Collins and Hobbs, 1227, 24 Jul, 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File; Ltr, Collins to Hechler, 7 
Jul 45, OCMH Files; FUSA Msg, 1235, 24 Jul, 
FUSA G-3 Jnl; 4th Div Msg, 1315, 24 Jul, 4th Div 
G-3 Jnl and File. 

1S VII Corps Opns Memo 47, 24 Jul. 



infiltrated behind the withdrawal; a 
reinforced battalion of the 47th Infantry 
struggled until dark to gain a single 
hedgerow; two battalions of the 39th 
Infantry fought eight hours to reduce 
a strongpoint and took 77 casualties, 
among them the regimental commander, 
Col. Harry A. Flint. 16 In the corps cen- 
ter, the 4th Division committed the 8th 
Infantry, which attacked in a column of 
battalions with tank support; after two 
hours of heavy fighting and a loss of 27 
killed and 70 wounded, the regiment 
reached a point 100 yards north of the 
highway. On the corps left, the 30th 
Division did not advance at once because 
the assault elements were stunned and 
demoralized by the bombardment acci- 
dent. It took almost an hour for the 
units to recover and reorganize, by which 
time enemy artillery fire had subsided. 
The division then advanced and reoc- 
cupied its original lines. 

The bombardment accident released 
a flood of controversy. Having expected 
a lateral approach to the target area, 
General Bradley was astonished and 
shocked when he learned that the planes 
had made a perpendicular bomb run. 
Using a perpendicular approach, Bradley 
said later, was an act of perfidy on the 
part of the Air Forces, "a serious breach 
of good faith in planning." 17 Other 
ground commanders had also anticipated 
a lateral approach, and their surprise 
was deepened by the horror that the 
news of casualties brought. 18 Even 
General Quesada, the commander of the 



10 Colonel Flint was posthumously awarded the 
Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to the DSC he had earlier 
received. 

" Bradley, Soldier's Story, pp. 341, 346-48. 
18 Hobbs Telecons, 1330 and 1412, 24 Jul, 30th 
Div G—3 Jnl and File; Sylvan Diary, 24 Jul. 



232 BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




155-MM. Howitzer, north of PMers-St. LS highway, blasts German lines. 



IX TAC, dispatched a telegram of in- 
dignant protest on the direction of the 
heavy- bomber approach (his fighter- 
bombers had made a lateral approach). 
Quesada demanded whether "another 
plan" had actually been employed. 10 
Obviously, something was wrong. Per- 
haps something was inexcusably wrong, 
since Cobra had been conceived and 
planned, not hastily, but thoroughly 
over a period of almost two weeks. 

At the conference between General 
Bradley and air representatives on 19 
July, when the Cobra air arrangements 



19 Red Line Msg. Quesada to Bicrcton, 24 Jul, 
Rpts of Bombing Errors Made on 3h§ Jul, 8 Aug, 
USAF Hist Sec Files. 



were being worked out, the direction of 
the bombing approach had "evoked con- 
siderable discussion." General Bradley 
had insisted on his parallel plan, while 
all the Air Forces representatives had 
argued that perpendicular runs were 
more suitable. 20 At the end of the con- 
ference the question had not been set- 
tled formally, though General Bradley 
must have assumed that his recommen- 
dation for lateral bomb runs would be 
accepted. The Air Forces representa- 
tives had understood that General Brad- 
ley "was aware of the possibility of gross 
[bombing] errors causing casualties" 



Eighth AF Spec Rpt on Opns 24 and 25 Jul, 
n.d„ USAF Hist Sec Files; Ilalas Notes. 



COBRA 



233 



among his troops, and they thought he 
had said "that he was prepared to accept 
such casualties no matter which way the 
planes approached." 21 Unaware of this 
conception, General Bradley had con- 
sidered the conference "very satisfac- 
tory." Even though Air Chief Marshal 
Leigh-Mallory had had to "rush off" be- 
fore its conclusion, General Quesada 
had remained throughout. 22 The re- 
sult of what in reality had been an un- 
satisfactory conference was an absence 
of firm understanding and mutual agree- 
ment. 

The approach route was not the only 
difficulty. General Bradley recalled 
after the war that he had gained the im- 
pression that the air forces would use 
bombs no heavier than 100 pounds and 
was surprised when larger bombs were 
dropped. 23 Yet during Bradley's con- 
ference at the First Army command post 
on 12 July, General Collins had asked, 
"Do we get heavy or medium bombs or 
both?" and Bradley had replied, "Both." 
The 260-pound bomb in Bradley's esti- 
mation did not "make too big a crater." 
Collins, who wanted to take a chance on 
the cratering, had voted for "bigger and 
better bombs," even 500-pound bombs, 
while General Quesada had suggested 
that 260-pound bombs would be large 
enough. The discussion had not cleared 
up the matter, and when the conference 
ended the question was still not settled. 24 



21 Eighth AF Draft Ltr, Summary of Ping and 
Execution of Missions 24 and 25 Jul, n.d., Rpts of 
Bombing Errors Made on 25 Jul, 8 Aug, USAF 
Hist Sec Files. 

22 Ltrs, Leigh-Mallory to Bradley, ig Jul, and 
Bradley to Leigh-Mallory, 23 Jul, OCMH Files. 

23 Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 341. 

2t FUSA Conf Notes, 12 Jul, FUSA G-3 Misc 
File; Halas Notes, ML-2244. 



Despite the absence of agreement, the 
basic planning documents of the air 
strike plainly indicated that 450 fighter- 
bombers and medium bombers were 
each to carry two 500-pound general pur- 
pose bombs as well as 260-pound general 
purpose and fragmentation bombs. 25 
Although 70 percent of the heavy 
bombers were to carry 100-pound general 
purpose bombs, the remaining 30 per- 
cent were to use 260-pound fragmenta- 
tion bombs to the extent of their availa- 
bility and heavier bombs when no more 
260-pound bombs could be had. 26 

There was no time for recrimination 
on 24 July, for an immediate decision 
had to be made. Should General Brad- 
ley agree to another bombardment under 
the same terms and thereby indirectly 
condone the possibility of additional 
American casualties? Or should he in- 
sist on changing the pattern of air attack, 
which would mean postponing Cobra 
for several days at least? With higher 
headquarters anxious for action, General 
Bradley had little choice. The ground 
attack on the afternoon of 24 July had 
re-established the necessary Cobra con- 
ditions. Prospects for good weather on 
25 July were improving. The question 
whether the premature bombing had 
lost the Americans tactical surprise was 
to be resolved at once: the Allies would 
launch Cobra again at 1 100, 25 July. 

For the second Cobra bombardment 
several alterations were made in an .at- 
tempt to avoid a repetition of the bomb- 
ing errors. Air bombardment targets 
north of the Periers— St. L6 highway— 



25 IX TAC Opns Order 88, 19 Jul; [George], 
Ninth Air Force, p. 124. 

26 Eighth AF FO's 913 and giy, 23 and 24 Jul, 
Eighth AF Spec Rpt on Opns 24 and 25, n.d., 
USAF Hist Sec Files. 




Waiting for the Cobra Bombard* 

six in all— were relegated to the artil- 
lery. 27 A special weather reconnais- 
sance plane was to enter the assault area 
early in the morning to obtain exact at- 
mospheric data and find out if there was 
adequate visibility for the bombardment. 
The heavy bombers were to fly as low 
as safety would permit, and, if possible, 
bomb visually. 28 

Again on the morning of 25 July the 
planes came. Flying in groups of 
twelve, over 1,500 B-17's and B-a4's 
dropped more than 3,300 tons of bombs 

aT U. Col. Orlando C. Troxel. Jr., Telecon, 3857, 
24 Jul, and VII Corps Msg, 0155, S 5 Jul, 30th Div 

C-3 Jnl. 
" AM 111, 232. 



knt, Sth Infantrymen look skyward, 

in the Cobra area, and more than 380 
medium bombers dropped over 650 tons 
of high explosives and fragmentation 
bombs. In groups of four, over 550 
fighter-bombers dropped more than 200 
tons of bombs and a large amount of 
napalm. 29 The earth shook. 

Bombing heights bad been fixed 
around 15,000 feet, but the presence of 
clouds forced readjustment in flight. 
Most bombardiers had to recompute 
their figures en route. Some planes 



10 AAF III, 232-33; Eighth AF Tactical Mission 
Rpr Opn 494, 25 Jul, IJSAF Hist Sec Files; Leigh 
Mallory, "Despatch," Fourth Supplement to the 
London Gazette of December 31, 1946, p. 65; Sylvan 
Diary, 25 Jul. 



COBRA 



235 




After the Cobra Bombardment m 

bombed from the relatively low altitude 
of 1 2,000 feet, which brought them 
closer to the enemy antiaircraft fire and 
thus added to pilot strain, loosened flight 
formations, and increased the hazards of 
crowded air over the target. Artillery 
smoke markers proved o£ little value be- 
cause they were not visible until the 
smoke drifted to high altitudes, and by 
that time the wind had dispersed and 
displaced it. Once the attack began, 
great clouds of dust and smoke obscured 
not only markers but terrain features as 
well. Furthermore, the red smoke of 
artillery markers could hardly be dis- 
tinguished from shell and bomb bursts 
and from muzzle flashes of American 



1 dig out from the short bombings. 

and German artillery. Because it was 
impossible to keep bomb formations 
tight and because the crew members had 
been impressed with the necessity of 
avoiding short bombing, a good portion 
of the bombs landed south of the target 
area or west and east of it. Some 
bombs, however, again fell north of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway and on American 
positions. 30 

The bombs fell north of the highway 
because of human error. The lead 
bombardier of one heavy bomber forma- 



30 AAF IJi, £32-34; Fir « u - s - Army, Report of 
Operations, 1, in. 



236 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



tion had trouble with his bombsight and 
released visually with bad results. An- 
other failed to identify landmarks prop- 
erly. The lead pilot of a third forma- 
tion prematurely ordered bombs away, 
and all the planes in his unit released 
their loads. Fragmentation bombs and 
high explosives from 35 heavy bombers 
and the bombs of 42 medium bombers 
dropped within American lines. 31 

This relatively light bombardment 
north of the road killed 111 of the 
American troops and wounded 490. 32 
In addition some spectators, official ob- 
servers, and newspaper reporters were 
hit. Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, com- 
manding general of the Army Ground 
Forces and pro tern commander of the 
1st U.S. Army Group, was killed. Gen- 
eral McNair had been placed in com- 
mand of the army group in order to give 
continuing verisimilitude to the Allied 
deception maintained by Operation 
Fortitude. Because the news of Gener- 
al McNair's death might compromise 
Fortitude, he was buried secretly, with 
only senior officers in attendance. The 
news was suppressed until Lt. Gen. John 
L. DeWitt reached the theater to become 



31 AAF III, 232-34. On the problems of direct 
support bombing, see Roswell Wing's pertinent 
Comment on the Medium Bombardment Effort to 
Support the 30th Division's West Wall Assault, 
MacDonald Files, OCMH, and Harris, Bomber Of- 
fensive, p. 213. 

32 USSTAF In Europe, Report of Investigation, 
14 Aug, USAF Hist Sec Files, lists the following 
casualties: 47th Infantry, gth Division: 14 killed, 
33 wounded; 15th Engineer Battalion: 15 killed, 
23 wounded; 60th Field Artillery Battalion: 4 
wounded; 84th Field Artillery Battalion: 1 killed, 
2 wounded; 4th Division: 10 killed, 27 wounded; 
30th Division: 61 killed, 374 wounded. In addition, 
the 39th Infantry of the 9th Division lost 16 wound- 
ed, and the 957th Field Artillery Battalion lost 10 



nominal commander of the fictitious 
army group. 33 

As news of the second short bombing 
spread across the battle area on 25 July, 
the sense of elated anticipation that had 
come with the appearance of the Cobra 
bombardment fleet vanished. Resent- 
ment that the air force "had done it 
again" and grimness over the prospects 
of successful ground action spread 
throughout American ranks. 34 Dis- 
mayed and dejected over the nearly 900 
U.S. casualties sustained from the bomb- 
ings in the two days, General Eisenhower 
resolved that he would never again use 
heavy bombers in a tactical role. 85 

Near the vicinity where the short 
bombs had fallen, troops were disorgan- 
ized and in some cases attack plans were 
disrupted. The entire command group 
of the 3d Battalion, 47 th Infantry, had 
been destroyed with the exception of 
the battalion commander; 30 men were 
killed or wounded, and the unit had to 



killed and 11 wounded. (See gth Div G—3 Jnl, 

25 Jul.) General Collins in his Talk agreed with 
the figures of 111 killed and 490 wounded. AAF 
III, page 234, states that a total of 102 were killed 
and 380 were wounded. Eighth Air Force Special 
Report on Operations 24 and 25 July, USAF Hist 
Sec Files, gives a very complete report including 
plans, maps, photos, bomb damage assessment, and 
prisoner of war interrogations on the effect of the 
bombing. [Ackerman], Employment of Strategic 
Bombers in a Tactical Role, pp. 8gff, does not give 
a particularly good account. 

88 Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. 349; Brereton, 
Diaries, pp. 313-15; Ltrs, Eisenhower to Marshall, 

26 and 27 Jul, Pogue Files; ETOUSA Ltr, Assign- 
ment of Comd, 21 Jul, AG 322/011 MPM, and 
SHAEF Ltr, Orders, 9 Aug, AG 211-3 (Generals), 
SHAEF AG File 322-3 (FUSAG) . 

34 AAF III, 234. 

35 Bradley, Soldier's Story, p. J4g. He later 
changed his mind. 



COBRA 



237 




9th Division Troops AdvancEj Ignoring Dust kicked up by the Cobra bombard- 
ment, 25 July. 



be replaced in the assault. The fire di- 
rection center of the 957th Field Artil- 
lery Battalion was obliterated. The 
communications wire between the gth 
Division Artillery command post and 
the firing battalions was cut, and initial 
preparations had to be controlled by 
radio. All four assault companies of 
the 8th Infantry were bombed. Because 
of extremely high casualties in the 119th 
and 120th Infantry Regiments, the com- 
manders were as much concerned about 
securing ambulances for their wounded 
as about starting the attack. Many in- 
dividuals who suffered no visible physi- 
cal injuries sustained concussion and 
shock. The 30th Division, for example, 
reported 164 cases of combat exhaustion 
attributable to the short bombing on 25 
, se "The dive bombers came in 



""30th lliv AAR, JuJ; University of Oklahoma 
Research Institute, Technical Memo, ORO-T-202, 
Disaster in Battle, a 5 Aug 52, passim. 



beautifully," a company commander re- 
lated afterward, 

and dropped their bombs right . . . where 
they belonged. Then the first group of 
heavies dropped them in the draw several 

hundred yards in front of us The next 

wave came in closer, the next one . . . still 
closer. The dust cloud was drifting back 
toward us. Then they came right on top 
of us. . . . We put on all the orange smoke 
we had but I don't think it did any good, 
they could not have seen it through the 
dust. . . . The shock was awful. A lot 
of the men were sitting around after the 
bombing in a complete daze. ... I called 
battalion and told them I was in no condi- 
tion to move, that everything was com- 
pletely disorganized and it would take me 
some time to get my men back together, 
and asked for a delay. But battalion said 
no, push off. Jump off immediately. 37 

The feeling of profound discourage- 
ment temporarily overshadowed ques- 
of more immediate importance. 



!; Interv with CO, Co 




{4th Div) . 



238 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Had the bombardment neutralized the 
German defenses in the Cobra area? 
Had the bomb errors paralyzed Ameri- 
can mobility on the ground by demoral- 
izing the assault troops? The answers 
were soon to be revealed. Short bomb- 
ing or not, Cobra had been launched; 
for better or for worse, the ground at- 
tack had to go on. 

Effect on the Enemy 

Not only the main bombardment on 
25 July but also the premature bombing 
on 24 July terrified the Germans and 
civilians on the other side of the Periers— 
St. L6 highway. Around noon of 24 
July, it must have seemed that the 
motors of the approaching Cobra 
armada were like an orchestra of bass 
viols tuning up. The crash of bombs 
announced the overture, the premature 
bombardment. Even the relatively few 
bombs that were released were enough to 
create an awesome effect. At least one 
person believed that the end of the world 
had come. Others thought that the 
Allies had developed a new weapon of 
overwhelming power. 38 

To Bayerlein, commander of Panzer 
Lehr, the bombardment on 24 July ob- 
viously signaled the beginning of a major 
American ground attack. Yet Bayerlein 
was able to influence the battle little. 



88 Toussaint, La Percee Americaine a VOuest de 
Saint-L6, p.7711. "The bombardment of 24 July," 
Toussaint, who observed it, later wrote, "was 
hardly noted in the official reports. However, if 
its volume did not equal the infernal agitation of 
the following day, it was nevertheless terrifying." 
See also J. de Saint-Jorre, "Journal d'un Saint- 
Lois pendant la Bataille de Normandie," Memoires 
de la Societe d' Archeologie de la Manche, LV, 47, 
and Saint-Jorre, "Saint-Lo sous les Bombes," in 
Herval, Bataille de Normandie, I, 85IT. 



The disruption of his communications 
to forward units and the confusion that 
resulted made it difficult to organize a 
co-ordinated defense against the ground 
attack that followed the bombing. Con- 
sequently, Bayerlein was more than 
gratified by the situation at the end of 
the day. Ignorant of the fact that 
Allied plans had gone awry and that the 
Americans had mounted only a limited 
objective attack, Bayerlein congratulated 
himself on the achievement of his troops. 
They had apparently repelled a major 
American effort and prevented the troops 
from crossing the Periers-St. L6 high- 
way. Panzer Lehr had flinched under 
the weight of the bombardment, but it 
had not given way; the front line re- 
mained intact and neither corps nor 
army reserves had been committed. 
However, losses from the bombing and 
the ground attack numbered about 350 
men and perhaps 10 tanks and tank 
destroyers. Ammunition had been ex- 
pended liberally, and stocks at firing bat- 
teries were rather low. Expecting a re- 
newed attack on the following day, 
Bayerlein requested and received 200 re- 
placements from the regiments of the 
2y$th Division assembled behind him. 
He also withdrew the bulk of his out- 
post line to locations south of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway, leaving only 
very lightly manned positions north of 
the road, where he anticipated strong 
American artillery fire. 39 

The premature bombing and the 
limited objective attack on 24 July had 
thus had the effect of a ruse. They 
nourished German self-confidence; Bay- 



39 Telecon, Tempelhoff and Helmdach, 1320, 24 
July, AGp B KTB; James B. Hodgson, Thrust- 
Counterthrust, the Battle of France, R-58. 



COBRA 



239 



erlein had no reason to believe that his 
division could not repeat its perform- 
ance and turn the Americans back again. 
For the real Cobra bombardment that 
was to come on 25 July, Panzer Lehr 
was deployed substantially as on the 
preceding day. The only difference was 
advantageous to the Americans: Bayer- 
lein had thinned his outpost line north 
of the highway and moved more troops 
directly into the area scheduled for 
saturation bombing. 

Bayerlein's self-confidence was shared 
by Hausser, the Seventh Army com- 
mander, but not by Kluge. When 
Kluge learned the Allies had bombed 
front-line positions, he thought im- 
mediately the strike must have occurred 
in the Panzer Group West sector, for 
that was the area he considered of pri- 
mary importance to the integrity of the 
entire Normandy front. He lost no 
time in telephoning Eberbach and ask- 
ing in alarm what had happened. 
Nothing new, Eberbach replied; every- 
thing very quiet. 40 

Discovering that it was Panzer Lehr 
in the Seventh Army sector that had 
been bombed, Kluge telephoned Haus- 
ser and asked for "a quick run-down on 
the situation." 

Hausser complied. He began a calm 
recital of facts. "Strong fire and patrol 
activity on the right wing; artillery fire 
on the Vire bridges; reorganization of 
the [American] army front." 

"Reorganization for what?" Kluge in- 
terrupted. 

"To insert another corps," Hausser 
explained. Then after waiting a mo- 
ment, he continued. "On the left flank 



40 Telecon, Kluge and Eberbach, 1800, 24 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 828. 



very strong air activity; attacks in the 
form of bomb carpets three kilometers 
behind the MLR. Attack against the 
middle of the left sector. Only limited 
attacks; no concerted assault recogniz- 
able." 

"In other words," Kluge pressed for 
an interpretation, "as weather improves 
we can expect increasingly severe fight- 
ing around St. L6 and westward. Isn't 
that about it?" 

Hausser agreed. "On the extreme 
left wing also," he added. 

"I'd like to ask you again," Kluge 
insisted, "do you get the impression that 
you're heading for heavy fighting?" 

"We've got to expect it somewhere," 
Hausser allowed. He revealed little 
concern or worry. 

"Have you created appropriate re- 
serves?" Kluge asked. 

Hausser reminded him that the 353d 
Division had been pulled out of the 
line. 

But Kluge seemed already to be think- 
ing of something else. "Without any 
doubt," he said, as though talking to 
himself, "there's something new in all 
this air activity. We have got to ex- 
pect a heavy enemy offensive some- 
where." 41 

Kluge's hunch was right, but his guess 
was wrong. Still assuming that the 
Allies would make their main effort 
against the eastern sector, Kluge spent 
the following day, 25 July, inspecting 
the forward positions of Panzer Group 
West.* 2 He was on hand to witness the 
reaction to an attack near Tilly launched 



41 Telecon, Kluge and Hausser, 1810, 24 Jul, OB 
WEST KTB, Anlage 829. 

"AGp B KTB, Anlagen, Fall, 40-X.44, Annex 
40. 



240 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



by the 2d Canadian Corps. The Cana- 
dians gained a mile or two until the 
pth SS Panzer Division was committed 
to stop the advance. 43 But there was 
no real cause for concern on the Panzer 
Group West front. The dangerous sec- 
tor was across the Vire in the Seventh 
Army area, where Cobra had struck 
again. 

If the previous day's commotion had 
seemed like Armageddon, the bombard- 
ment of 25 July was even worse. 44 
Bombs buried men and equipment, 
overturned tanks, cut telephone wires, 
broke radio antennas, sent messengers 
fleeing for foxholes or the nearest crater,. 
Communications with forward echelons 
were completely disrupted. The bom- 
bardment transformed the main line of 
resistance from a familiar pastoral 
paysage into a frightening landscape of 
the moon. Several hours after the 
bombing, the village priest of la 
Chapelle-en-Juger, near the center of the 
target area, walked through the fields 
and thought he was in a strange world. 45 

No less than a thousand men must 
have perished in the Cobra bombard- 
ment. About one third of the total 
number of combat effectives manning 
the main line of defense and assembled 
on the immediate reserve line were 
probably killed or wounded, the survi- 
vors dazed. Perhaps only a dozen tanks 
or tank destroyers remained in opera- 
tion. Three battalion command posts 



43 21 AGp Msg, 25 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; Telecons, 
Speidel to Zimmerman and Zimmerman to Friedel, 
2315 and 2335, 25 Jul, OB WEST KTB, Anlage 849. 

44 An observer called it "the most imposing aerial 
parade I have seen since the beginning of this long 
war." Saint-Jorre, "Saint-Lo sous les Bombes," in 
Herval, Bataille de Normandie, I, 97. 

45 MS # A-902 (Bayerlein) ; Toussaint, La Percee 
Americaine a I'Ouest de Saint-Lo, p. 144. 



of Panzer Lehr were demolished. The 
attached parachute regiment virtually 
vanished. Only local and feeble resist- 
ance was possible against attacking 
American infantrymen. 46 

Kamfgruppe Heinz on the Panzer 
Lehr right was the sole unit larger than 
a battalion that was capable of effective 
combat. By the end of 25 July that 
kampfgruppe no longer existed— it had 
apparently been annihilated in ground 
action near Hebecrevon. The Para- 
chute Corps, trying to re-establish con- 
tact with Panzer Lehr that evening, dis- 
patched an infantry battalion to the 
sector previously occupied by the kampf- 
gruppe. The battalion found only 
Americans. 

Continued Allied air activity in 
Panzer Lehr rear areas during the after- 
noon of 25 July thwarted efforts to 
reorganize and build up a new line of 
defense. One regiment of the 275^ 
Division, ordered to move up from 
Marigny and counterattack through la 
Chapelle-en-Juger, lost all semblance of 
organization and counted only 200 sur- 
vivors at the end of the day. 

"As of this moment," Kluge reported 
that evening, "the front has . . . burst." 
The Americans had made a penetration 
three miles in width and from one to 
three miles in depth. Not yet sealed 
off, the hole was inhabited by isolated 
units, by bewildered individuals, and by 
departed souls. The 353d Division and 
the remainder of the 275^ Division had 
been committed, but it was highly ques- 
tionable whether they could restore the 
front or even re-establish a defensive 
line. Kluge nevertheless felt there was 

40 Seventh Army KTB, 25 Jul; Liddell Hart, The 
Rommel Papers, pp. 489-90; Pz Lehr Div lb KTB, 
Annex 247; MS # B-489 (Ziegelmann) . 



COBRA 



241 



still hope of stopping the Americans. 
Although "we must fight for every yard 
on the right wing [Panzer Group West 
sector]," Kluge stated, he had freedom 
of movement and of withdrawal on the 
left, west of the Vire. If he could de- 
crease the length of his line west of St. 
L6 by withdrawal and thereby extricate 
the 2d SS Panzer Division and use it as 
a mobile reserve, he might salvage some- 
thing from the discouraging situation, 
but he needed "a free hand in his deci- 
sions about Seventh Army." Would 
Hitler give him a free hand? Shortly 
after midnight, Hitler said he would. 47 

Ground Attack 

Hopeful that the Cobra bombard- 
ment on the morning of 25 July had 
caused widespread devastation on the 
German main line of resistance but not 
at all sure that it had, infantrymen of 
the VII Corps moved out in attack at 
1100. Despite the disorganization that 
the bombing errors had prompted, only 
two units, a regiment of the gth Division 
and a battalion of the 30th Division, 
were unable to attack on the hour, and 
these jumped off after only a slight 
delay. 48 

The infantry units initiating the 
Cobra ground attack were to create a 
protected corridor for those troops sched- 
uled to follow and exploit a break- 
through. The infantry, therefore, had 
the mission of securing specific geo- 
graphical objectives as rapidly as pos- 
sible. Critical terrain features such as 
high ground and crossroads that meant 



control of the corridor had been care- 
fully assigned to each small unit partici- 
pating in the attack, and the assault 
troops were to drive to their objectives 
without regard to the rate of advance 
of adjacent units. They were to bypass 
enemy strongpoints, leaving their reduc- 
tion to others who would come later. 
Engineers were to assist forward move- 
ment by hastily repairing the roads 
and removing obstacles. All unneces- 
sary traffic was to stay off the roads in 
the assault area. The attacking units 
had been stripped of nonessential equip- 
ment to reduce column time lengths. 
The troops carried extra rations to keep 
supply traffic to a minimum. They 
were to hold wounded men and prisoners 
in place whenever possible. They had 
been issued enough ammunition to last 
until the exploiting armor passed 
through them. Commanders or respon- 
sible staff officers were to be at unit 
radios at all times and tuned to the com- 
mand net for word that the mobile 
columns were about to begin their ex- 
ploitation. When that was announced, 
the infantry was to clear the main roads 
and allow the exploitatio n to get u nder 



{Map V) 



way without impediment. 4 

The towns of Marigny and St. Gilles 
were the main infantry objectives. 
Their capture would signify a penetra- 
tion of three miles in depth, and their 
retention would give the VII Corps con- 
trol of the road network needed for the 
exploitation. If the air bombardment 
had destroyed the German defenses, the 



47 Telecons, Speidel to Zimmerman, Zimmerman 
to Friedel, Friedel to Zimmerman, 2315, 2335, 25 
Jul, and 0045, 26 Jul, OR WEST KTB, Anlage 8 49 . 

48 VII Corps Sitrep 98, 25 Jul. 



40 VII Corps Opns Memo 43, 20 Jul; gth Div FO 
10, 20 Jul; 4th Div FO 11, 20 Jul; 30th Div FO 13, 
20 Jul; 117th In£ FO 10, 20 Jul; 119th In£ FO 5, n.d.; 
120th In£ FO 12, 20 Jul; 30th Div Administrative 
Order 20, 23 Jul; 105th Engr C Bn FO 3, 21 Jul; 
Misc Notes, n.d., 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



242 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



infantry would reach and secure 
Marigny and St. Gilles without great 
difficulty. General Collins would then 
catapult his armor forward. 

On the VII Corps right (west), the 
330th Infantry (detached from the 83d 
Division) was to seize a part of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway, including a vital 
road intersection, and block to the west 
in order to hamper any German attack 
from Periers against the corps right 
flank. In effect, the regiment was to 
secure and hold the pivot on which the 
VII Corps main effort was to swing in 
its turn toward Coutances. Eventually, 
the 330th Infantry was also to turn west- 
ward and join its parent unit and VIII 
Corps. 50 

The immediate regimental objective 
was near the Taute River flats, marshy 
hedgerowed lowland that was outside the 
Cobra bombardment area. Because the 
83d Division had been unable a week 
earlier to force a crossing of the Taute 
River over the la Varde causeway, Ger- 
mans still occupied the la Varde penin- 
sula and constituted a threat to the 
regimental right flank. 51 Dispersed over 
a large area, without strength in depth, 
facing hedgerowed lowlands, about to 
attack enemy troops that had not been 
affected by the Cobra bombardment, 
and harassed by tank destroyer fire from 
the right rear near Marchesieux, the 
regiment had a mission as difficult as 
it was vital. 

The advance was rapid so long as 
fighter-bombers and medium bombers 
were still striking the Cobra target area 
southeast of the regimental positions. 

50 Min of Mtg (on Cobra) , 21 Jul, 83d Div G— 2, 
G-3 Jnl and File; 330th Inf (Cobra) Attack Plan, 
n.d., 9th Div G— 3 Jnl and File. 

51 See above, Ch. XI. 



In forty minutes the assault battalion 
advanced 800 yards. When the planes 
left, the Germans raised their heads from 
their foxholes, discovered that the satu- 
ration bombing had taken place several 
miles away, and realized that they were 
not at all hurt. Opening fire from their 
hedgerow positions and quickly repair- 
ing breaks in communication wires 
caused by a few stray bombs, the soldiers 
of the regiment that the 5th Parachute 
Division controlled soon achieved a co- 
ordinated defense that stopped the 330th 
Infantry. At the same time, shells from 
Marchesieux began to fall on the 330th 's 
right flank. 

The 330th Infantry could get no 
farther than a point several hundred 
yards short of its objective. Counter- 
battery fire by the 83d Division Artillery 
seemed to have little effect in reducing 
the volume of enemy shells. Unless a 
bombing attack destroyed the March- 
esieux emplacements and thus elimi- 
nated the threat to the regimental right 
rear, there seemed little hope that the 
330th Infantry would attain its im- 
mediate Cobra objective. 52 

The 9th Division was to attack to 
Marigny, along the main highway, which 
was later to serve the principal exploit- 
ing thrust. General Eddy's regiments 
were to peel off to the west in order to 
uncover the highway and form a strong 
protective line facing west. The ter- 
rain in the zone of advance— low ridges 
and small marshes— was rather difficult. 

After some confusion occasioned by 
the bombing errors, the assault units 
moved rather quickly through the hos- 
tile outpost line north of the Periers-St. 



62 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File, 25 Jul, and 
AAR, Jul. 



COBRA 



243 



L6 highway, containing and bypassing 
several strongpoints that were still ac- 
tive. Once across the line of departure, 
the troops were surprised to find in- 
creasingly troublesome centers of resist- 
ance. Despite the saturation bombing, 
groups of enemy soldiers were still fight- 
ing stubbornly. When the gth Division 
shifted its weight to the west and met 
Germans who had been outside the bom- 
bardment carpet, the infantry made little 
progress. 

The assault units of the 9th Division, 
with several exceptions, did not reach 
their initial objectives. One battalion 
that did arrive at its objective was pro- 
hibited by division order from continu- 
ing lest it get too far ahead of the others. 
Another battalion, which had advanced 
a thousand yards down the Marigny 
road, also received the order to halt and 
consolidate for the night even though 
it had encountered only sporadic small 
arms and long-range artillery fire. The 
caution that General Eddy was demon- 
strating illustrated American surprise at 
the tenacity of the German opposition. 
Enemy troops that had escaped the bomb 
blast seemed not at all affected by what 
had happened to nearby units that had 
been obliterated in the bombardment. 

In the center of the VII Corps sector, 
General Barton had committed only one 
regiment of the 4th Division. With 
but slight disorganization because of the 
short bombing, the 8th Infantry attacked 
with two battalions abreast on a 2,000- 
yard front on good terrain for offensive 
action. One assault battalion immedi- 
ately bypassed a German strongpoint 
north of the Periers-St. L6 highway, the 
line of departure, and moved rapidly 
south for a mile and a half against 
scattered opposition; at nightfall the 



leading troops were just east of la 
Chapelle-en-Juger. The other assault 
battalion struck an orchard full of Ger- 
mans who had such effective fields of 
fire that the battalion could not sideslip 
the obstruction. After a two-hour de- 
lay, eighteen supporting tanks, which 
had temporarily lost contact with the 
infantry, arrived and blasted the orchard. 
The resistance disintegrated. The bat- 
talion crossed the Periers-St. L6 high- 
way and encountered no opposition for 
700 yards, but then two German tanks 
and a line of enemy soldiers along a 
sunken road again stopped the battalion. 
Once more the supporting Shermans had 
become separated from the infantry. 
The battalion made a double envelop- 
ment of the enemy strongpoint and 
knocked out the two enemy tanks with 
bazooka fire. Still the enemy held. 
After the Shermans finally rumbled up, 
a few rounds of tank fire destroyed the 
defense. Receiving a sudden order to 
seize la Chapelle-en-Juger, the battalion 
changed direction and gained the edge 
of town. American artillery fire falling 
nearby brought the attack to a halt. 

On the corps left, oriented toward St. 
Gilles, the 30th Division recovered with 
amazing quickness from the demoralizing 
effect of the short bombing. 53 Soon 
after the infantry started forward Ameri- 
can planes bombed and strafed the 
troops again, driving them into ditches 
and bomb craters. More angry than 
scared, the men advanced once more. 

They had a twofold mission. The 
30th Division was to clear the road to 



53 The assistant division commander, General 
Harrison, who later was awarded the DSC, was on 
hand to inspire men who appeared to be on the 
verge of panic. 



244 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



St. Gilles for the armored thrust to fol- 
low and was also to establish roadblocks 
at the bridges across the Vire River 
south of St. L6. The bridges across the 
Vire had been bombed by tactical air- 
craft in pre-CoBRA operations, and al- 
though some structures were damaged or 
destroyed, actual possession of the bridge 
sites by 30th Division infantrymen 
would enhance the security of the Cobra 
east flank. 54 As the 30th Division 
veered eastward and uncovered the road 
to St. Gilles, an armored column, alerted 
to follow, would drive south to foil Ger- 
man reinforcement from the southeast. 
General Hobbs thus mounted a two- 
pronged attack, one thrusting toward St. 
Gilles, the other pointing toward the 
high ground inside the horseshoe loop 
of the Vire River at St. L6. The 
minimum assignment for the division 
was capture of Hebecrevon. 

Just across the Periers-St. L6 highway, 
30th Division troops met a roadblock 
built around three Mark V tanks. A 
frontal three-company attack, supported 
by Shermans, failed to dislodge the road- 
block and resulted in the loss of three 
American tanks. An attempted double 
envelopment brought infantrymen into 
contact with additional German centers 
of resistance. Aggressive reconnaissance 
and excellent tank-infantry co-ordina- 
tion were finally responsible for knock- 
ing out a dozen armored vehicles and 
uprooting the German defense. 

In attacking Hebecrevon, the 30th 
Division had to cross a valley, using an 
unpaved and mined road with precipi- 
tous banks, and make a frontal assault 
against commanding terrain. Because 
German fire prevented American en- 



gineers from clearing the road of mines, 
tanks could not accompany the infantry. 
Lack of alternate roads, absence of 
stream-crossing sites, closeness of ad- 
jacent units, and troop congestion pre- 
cluded maneuver. An air strike seem- 
ingly had no effect on the volume of 
enemy fire. In the early evening the 
regimental commander of the 1 1 gth In- 
fantry sought clarification of what ap- 
peared to be a paradoxical mission: was 
he to seize Hebecrevon or was he to 
bypass enemy resistance? Both, replied 
General Hobbs; "The important thing 
was to gain control of the crossroad in 
the town." 55 But not until darkness 
fell were infantrymen and tanks able to 
move against Hebecrevon. Soldiers act- 
ing like seeing-eye dogs led Shermans 
around bomb craters and through mine 
fields into positions for direct fire. 
Their shelling soon had the desired 
effect. Around midnight American 
troops entered Hebecrevon. 

The ground attack following the 
Cobra bombardment on 25 July moved 
the VII Corps across the Periers-St. L6 
highway but not much farther. Al- 
though crossing the highway was no 
mean achievement, the prevailing Ameri- 
can attitude was far from elation. The 
immediate verdict of American com- 
manders judging the effectiveness of the 
Cobra air strike was virtually unani- 
mous: the bombardment had had al- 
most no effect on the enemy. German 
artillery fire on 25 July had been light 
when compared to that of the previous 
day, but still the volume had been 
strong. The difference could be as- 
cribed to low ammunition stocks or to 



54 [George], Ninth Air Force, p. 118. 



EE Hobbs, Telecons, 1750, 1917, and 2225, 25 Jul, 
30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



COBRA 



245 



the disruption of communications: the 
"enemy artillery," Americans believed, 
"was not touched by our bombing." 56 
Admittedly, the planes had damaged and 
destroyed equipment and had inflicted 
personnel losses in the bombed area, but 
the "effect of the bombing on the elimi- 
nation of infantry resistance was negli- 
gible." Had not the Germans con- 
tinued to contest every inch of ground? 57 
General Hobbs was more blunt: "There 
is no indication of bombing," he stated, 
"in where we have gone so far." 58 

The truth of the matter was that 
"saturation" bombing had not saturated 
the entire target. Some American units 
had moved rapidly through areas in 
which the German defenses had ob- 
viously been neutralized by the bom- 
bardment. 59 Others had met resistance 
they had not expected. 

The disappointment resulted in the 
main from overanticipation and overcon- 
fidence in the results of the bombard- 
ment. Many American troops had ex- 
pected the bombardment to eliminate 
resistance in the target area; they thought 
that all the Germans would be killed or 
wounded; they had looked forward to 
the prospect of strolling through the 
bomb target area. The fact that some 
enemy groups had survived and were 
able to fight seemed to prove that the 
air bombardment had failed to achieve 
its purpose. The troops apparently had 
not realized that air bombardment and 
artillery fire, even under the most 
favorable conditions, do not completely 



56 30th Div G-2 Per Rpt, 25 Jul; 9th Div Arty 
AAR, Jul. 

57 gth Div G-2 Per Rpt, 0030, 26 Jul. 

68 Telecon, Collins and Hobbs, 1550, 25 Jul, 30th 
Div G— 3 Jnl and File. 

59 See, for example, 47th Inf S-3 Per Rpt, 26 Jul. 



destroy the enemy, but by inflicting 
heavy losses weaken him physically and 
morally, disorganize his defenses, and 
make him vulnerable to infantry at- 
tack. 60 

The bombing errors that had taken 
American lives heightened the sense 
of discouragement. Comparatively few 
bombs had produced heavy casualties. 
Only gradually did the attitude of de- 
pression change. The bombing of 
American troops, it developed, "was not 
as bad as it seemed at first." 61 It had 
not materially disrupted the ground 
attack. The bombardment had, after 
all, knocked a hole in the German de- 
fenses. German prisoners were visibly 
shaken and dazed. Steel bomb frag- 
ments had shredded light vehicles, 
perforated heavy equipment, cut tank 
treads, splintered trees, smashed houses, 
and shattered communications in the 
enemy sector. 62 

Judged from the point of view of 
geographical advance, the ground attack 
had nevertheless gained relatively little 
terrain. The VII Corps had advanced 
the line only about a mile south of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway. That this was 
the case, even though only isolated and 
un-co-ordinated German groups re- 
mained to contest the advance, could be 
explained partially by the fact that the 
initial disappointment itself had nul- 
lified to a large extent General Bradley's 
injunction to be bold. The battle of 
the hedgerows during the preceding 
weeks had inflicted its psychological toll 
on the combat forces. Habits of caution 



60 12th AGp Immed Rpt 20, 8 Aug. 

61 9th Div G—3 Jnl, entry 1201, 26 Jul. 

62 See Brereton, Diaries, pp. 316-17; Wilmot, 
Struggle for Europe, pp. 3goff. 



246 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



could not be dissipated by an air strike 
or by an order. The presence of Ger- 
man defenders per se implied stubborn 
and skillful opposition. 

The ground attack had actually suc- 
ceeded better than anyone supposed. 
The VII Corps infantrymen had de- 
stroyed almost all the Germans who 
survived the bombardment, but the 
Germans knew this better than the 
Americans. It would have been hard 
to convince the 330th Infantry, for ex- 
ample, which had not yet crossed the 
Periers— St. L6 highway, that a yawning 
hole existed before the VII Corps. The 
gth Division also was far short of 
Marigny; the committed regiment of the 
4th Division had not secured la Chapelle- 
en-Juger; and the 30th Division had had 
great difficulty taking Hebecrevon and 
uncovering a small part of the road to 
St. Gilles. 63 In the opinion of American 
commanders, a clean penetration had 
not been made by the end of 25 July. 
They could not believe that once the 
troops broke through the main line of 
resistance, which in actuality they al- 
ready had, there was "nothing in back to 
stop us." 64 

For his part, General Collins noted 
the absence of co-ordination in the Ger- 



63 VII Corps Sitrep 99, 26 Jul. 
"VII Corps G-2 Memo, 25 Jul, VII Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 



man defense. If this meant that the 
enemy main line of resistance had been 
smashed, Collins reasoned, then the Ger- 
mans must not be permitted to refashion 
another and he should commit his mo- 
bile reserves immediately. On the 
other hand, if the Germans had been 
forewarned by the premature bombing 
of 24 July, had withdrawn their main 
line, and escaped the full force of the 
main bombardment, then the sporadic 
nature of their defense possibly presaged 
a counterattack. If the German de- 
fenses had not been pierced, or if the 
Germans had erected another line, com- 
mitting additional forces to the attack 
might promote a congestion that could 
prove fatal. 

To General Collins a decision either 
to commit or to withhold his mobile 
striking force was a gamble. The in- 
fantry had not secured the minimum 
objectives deemed prerequisite for com- 
mitment of the armor. Nevertheless, 
he noted that the vital roads south to 
Marigny and to St. Gilles appeared to 
have been uncovered sufficiently to per- 
mit at least the commencement of the 
armored thrusts. Collins chose to move. 
During the afternoon of 25 July he de- 
cided to commit the armor on the fol- 
lowing morning. 65 

05 The earliest indication discovered of Collins' 
decision is a telephone conversation at 1745, 25 
July, in 30th Division G— 3 Journal and File. 



CHAPTER XIII 



The Breakthrough 



Although the armored phase of Cobra 
was about to begin, the infantry on the 
morning of 26 July still had much to 
do. While getting out of the paths of 
the armored columns, they had to broad- 
en the penetration achieved after the 
big bombardment and insure its per- 
manence. 1 This was no minor assign- 
ment; the infantry found that, even 
though the Germans were considerably 
disorganized, enemy morale had not 
been "shaken to the point where the 
individual soldier will not carry out his 
mission, which still is to defend every 
inch of ground and in flict ... as ma ny 
casualties as possible.' 



[See Map V.) 



German Reaction 

The first report to give German 
higher headquarters any picture of what 
had happened after the Cobra bombard- 
ment revealed that the Americans had 
penetrated the main line of defense. 
German commanders learned at 1600, 
25 July, that American troops were south 
of the Periers-St. L6 highway, in 
Montreuil, and on the road to Marigny. 3 
Choltitz immediately committed part of 



1 3d Armd Div Ltr of Instrs, 26 Jul (issued orally 
by CG VII Corps, 25 Jul) . 

2 9th Div FO 11, 26 Jul. 

"Telecon, Helmdach and TempelhofI, 1600, 25 
Jul, AGp B KTB; see also Morning and Daily 
Sitreps, 25 Jul, LXXX1V Corps Meldungen; Seventh 
Army KTB, 25 Jul. 



his LXXXIV Corps reserve, a reinforced 
regiment of the _J5_jd Division. From 
an assembly area south of Periers, the 
regiment moved eastward to secure la 
Chapelle-en-Juger and thereby seal off 
the penetration. Not long afterward, 
Hausser committed part of his Seventh 
Army reserve, a regiment of the 275^ 
Division, which, from its assembly area 
near Canisy, also moved toward la 
Chapelle-en-Juger. Thus, Choltitz and 
Hausser, acting on the same idea, sent 
two converging columns to deny the 
Americans the vital road network con- 
trolled by the village in the center of 
the attack zone. 

Hausser hoped that retention of la 
Chapelle-en-Juger would permit him to 
re-establish a main line of resistance 
eastward to Hebecrevon, but he was un- 
aware of the extent of the disaster that 
had overcome his troops. His command 
channels had been disrupted by the 
Cobra bombing and were saturated with 
overdue messages. Counting on the 5th 
Parachute Division, which controlled 
one regiment, to hold its positions near 
the Taute River and prevent the Ameri- 
cans from broadening their breach, he 
was not disappointed, for the para- 
troopers checked any genuine advance 
by the 330th Infantry. But Hausser 
also counted on the 352 d Division 
(under // Parachute Corps) to hold the 
west bank of the Vire River and prevent 



248 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



an American penetration near Hebecre- 
von. What he did not know was that 
Panzer Lehr had lost the bulk of its 
organic infantry, at least fourteen of its 
assault guns, and ten of its few remain- 
ing tanks; that Kampfgruppe Heinz and 
the other regiment of the 5th Parachute 
Division, both attached to Panzer Lehr, 
had been demolished; and that the regi- 
ment of the 275th Division moving up 
from Canisy was about to be crushed by 
American fighter-bombers and infantry. 
The result was an open left flank for the 
352c? Division, and in that condition the 
unit was simply too weak to hold 
Hebecrevon, much less seal off a pene- 
tration. 

Ignorant of these developments and 
of the loss of Hebecrevon, which opened 
the route to St. Gilles, the German army 
and corps commanders in the Cotentin 
exuded optimism on the morning of 
26 July. Choltitz committed the re- 
mainder of the 353d Division eastward 
toward the Montreuil-Marigny line to 
slow the efforts of the 9th Division. 
Hausser, while waiting for the destroyed 
and virtually nonexistent regiment of 
the 275th Division to move northwest 
from Canisy, decided to launch a coun- 
terattack with the company of tanks and 
the company of infantry of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division that he still had in 
army reserve. He committed this force 
in the Marigny area, where it met Ameri- 
can armor and infantry. 

Kluge, who had been diverted to the 
Caen sector on 25 July by the Canadian 
attack, thought the situation in the 
Cotentin might be worse than his sub- 
ordinates suspected. He suggested that 
Hausser withdraw the left of the 
LXXXIV Corps slightly in order to 
shorten the front. This would make it 



possible to disengage the entire 2d SS 
Panzer Division for a counterattack. 
By this time, however, U.S. troops on 
the Cotentin west coast were attacking 
and tying down the LXXXIV Corps left. 
Hausser could not disengage the entire 
panzer division; by evening he had suc- 
ceeded in freeing only one tank bat- 
talion and one infantry battalion from 
the battle. He moved these units east- 
ward toward the breakthrough sector. 4 

Hausser's difficulty with the panzer 
division was only part of the story. By 
late afternoon on 25 July he had counted 
seven distinct American penetrations of 
his Lessay-St. L6 defensive line. He 
had also received Bayerlein's report that 
Panzer Lehr had practically no infantry 
left and that the division was about to 
cease to exist as an organized unit. 
Hausser therefore proposed a general 
withdrawal to Coutances of those 
LXXXIV Corps units in the coastal sec- 
tor of the Cotentin. Still hoping that 
la Chapelle-en-Juger was not entirely 
lost, he thought of manning an outpost 
line between that village and Geffosses, 
the latter near the west coast. 

Suspecting that a withdrawal might 
turn into a rout, Kluge insisted on re- 
straint. He ordered Hausser to prepare 
a main line of resistance from Pirou 
through Millieres to Periers in order to 
keep the Geffosses-St. Sauveur-Lende- 
lin-Marigny road in German hands. 
He instructed Hausser to place all his 
available personnel on the front (rather 
than echeloning his defense in depth) 
in order to prevent immediately further 
American advances. He also repeated 



1 Telecons, Kluge and Hausser, 1010, 26 Jul, 
Pemsel and Tempelhoff, 1830, 26 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



249 



a request, which he had been making to 
OKW since 13 July, that OKW permit 
the 9th Panzer Division to be brought 
up from southern France to reinforce 
the Seventh Army at once. 5 

Penetration 

On the morning of 26 July, the situa- 
tion from the American point of view 
did not appear very bright. On the 
right of VII Corps, the 330th Infantry, 
which was to safeguard the flank of the 
Cobra main effort by cutting the 
Periers-St. L6 highway, securing a road 
intersection, and turning gradually west-, 
ward, was hopeful of accomplishing its 
missions early on 26 July, for the tank 
destroyer fire that had been harassing 
the regiment from Marchesieux ceased. 6 
But it soon became evident that the 
German paratroopers in opposition were 
as determined as ever. Not until late in 
the evening was the 330th Infantry able 
to cross the Periers— St. L6 highway, and 
even then the Germans continued to 
deny the regiment its crossroads objec- 
tive. 7 

Instructed to permit the principal 
Cobra armored column to pass through 
his 9th Division zone, General Eddy on 
26 July had to clear both enemy troops 
and his own from the Marigny road. 



Seventh Army KTB, 26 Jul; LXXXIV Corps 
Daily Sitrep, 26 Jul, in LXXXIV Corps Meldungen; 
Kluge Order, 1935, 26 Jul, AGp B Op. Befehle; 
Telecons, Kluge and Jodl, 1828, 13 Jul, and Kluge 
and Zimmerman, 1750, 26 Jul, OB WEST KTB, 
Anlagen 615, 860, and 862. 

" Overlay to accompany 9th Div G-3 Per Rpt, 
2400, 25 Jul; 83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl, entry 0915, 26 
Jul. 

'83d Div AAR, Jul, and G-3 Per Rpt 30, 26 
Jul; 9th Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1100, 1145, 2025, and 
2100, 26 Jul. 



He had to prevent the enemy from 
cutting the road and thereby blunting 
the main Cobra thrust. Restricted to 
a narrow zone of operations and facing 
German forces unharmed by the Cobra 
bombardment, General Eddy maneu- 
vered his units so that the gth Division 
by the end of the day was two and a half 
miles south of the Periers-St. L6 high- 
way and almost two miles west of the 
Marigny road. The division had sus- 
tained almost 200 casualties and had 
captured somewhat fewer prisoners. 
Although General Eddy had prevented 
his own troops from hampering an 
armored column moving south and had 
kept the Marigny road clear of enemy 
fire to the extent of his penetration, he 
faced the opposition of the Divi- 
sion, which, in trying to retake la 
Chapelle-en-Juger, threatened the VII 
Corps right flank. 8 

The 8th Infantry of the 4th Division 
took la Chapelle-en-Juger in the early 
morning of 26 July. Combat patrols 
had entered the village during the night, 
but the village crossroads was not secured 
until morning. 9 Continuing south, the 
regiment moved slowly, clearing isolated 
enemy groups. Commitment of the 
reserve battalion in the afternoon pro- 
vided enough added weight for a three- 
mile surge that overran part of the 
Division and put Panzer Lehr artillery 
units to flight. Early that evening the 
leading troops engaged what seemed like 
the remnants of a German battalion, 
captured about a company of miscella- 



8 9th Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1140, 1145, 1406, 1545, 
2040, 26 Jul; 39th Inf S-3 Rpt, 26 Jul; VII Corps 
Sitreps 100 and 101, 26 Jul. 

■ Telecon, Collins and Hobbs, 2215, 25 Jul, 30th 
Div G— 3 Jnl and File; 8th Inf Msg, 1020, 26 Jul, 
4th Div G-3 Jnl File. 



250 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



neous troops, and destroyed or dispersed 
the others. The regiment cut the 
Coutances— St. L6 highway and at the 
end of the day was about five miles 
south of the Cobra line of departure. 10 
On the corps left, the 30th Division 
had not only to protect the Cobra flank 
but also to permit an American armored 
column to pass through the division zone 
for exploitation beyond St. Gilles. 
Enemy artillery fire from what was 
estimated to be one medium and three 
light battalions, as well as from several 
88-mm. guns, checked any real advance 
during the morning of 26 July; but 
counterbattery missions delivered by the 
artillery units of the 30th Division, the 
VII Corps, and the XIX Corps produced 
the desired effect early that afternoon. 
As the division began to advance against 
diminishing artillery and mortar fire, an 
armored column passed through the 
division zone and drove toward St. 
Gilles. 11 

The 117th Infantry, attacking toward 
the loop of the Vire River, was stopped 
at a steep ravine where a well-positioned 
line held by part of the 353d Division 
was supported by II Parachute Corps 
artillery firing from the high ground 
south of St. L6. The regiment made 
five different attempts to overcome the 
resistance, but without success. Though 
close support by fighter-bombers might 
have aided the attack, General Hobbs 
was reluctant to request it because he 
feared a repetition of bombing errors. 
Accepting the apprehension as valid, 
General Collins did not press for the 
employment of tactical air. Not until 



10 4th Div AAR, Jul. 

11 30th Div G-2 Per Rpt, 26 Jul, and G-3 Jnl, 
26 Jul. 



evening, after a heavy 4.2-inch mortar 
preparation that coincided with a Ger- 
man withdrawal, did the regiment cross 
the ravine and move quickly to the en- 
trance of the loop, less than two miles 
west of St. L6. 12 

The 119th Infantry, the other assault 
regiment, moved rapidly in the after- 
noon for two miles south of Hebecrevon 
and cut the Coutances-St. L6 highway. 
Given a new mission at once— cutting 
the Canisy-St. L6 highway two miles to 
the south— the regiment was half way to 
its objective by nightfall. At this point 
the leading troops of the 30th Division 
were more than three miles south of the 
pre-CoBRA positions. 

By late afternoon of 26 July, Gen- 
eral Collins no longer doubted that his 
forces had achieved a clear penetration 
of the enemy defenses. Deeming that 
the situation demanded speed rather 
than caution, he told the infantry divi- 
sions to continue their attacks through 
the night. 13 

General Collins' directive coincided 
with a German order to make a slight 
withdrawal. During the night of 26 
July the German units west of the Taute 
River— those comprising the left of 
the LXXXIV Corps— withdrew slightly 
along the coast and took up a new line 
of defense anchored on Periers and Mar- 
chesieux. The 6th Parachute Regi- 
ment passed into the corps reserve at St. 
Sauveur-Lendelin. Just to the right of 
the corps boundary, the 352^ Division 
of the II Parachute Corps, already out- 



12 Telecon, Hobbs and Kelly, 1535, 25 Jul, 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File; 30th Div EO 14, 25 Jul; MS # 
B-489 (Ziegelmann) . 

13 VII Corps Opns Memo 49, 27 Jul (confirming 
oral orders, 26 Jul) . 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



251 



flanked, also withdrew from the loop of 
the Vire and along the west bank of the 
Vire River— in order to try to re-estab- 
lish contact with Panzer Lehr. 1 * This 
could be no more than a hope, for by 
that time there was virtually no organ- 
ized resistance between the 352^ and the 
5th Parachute Divisions, though the 
German higher commands did not seem 
to know it. 

Although the 330th Infantry on the 
extreme right flank of the VII Corps 
again struck stonewall resistance, all the 
other infantry units advanced during the 
night of 26 July. The 9th Division se- 
cured a road junction of local impor- 
tance. The 8th Infantry of the 4th Di- 
vision, leaving its vehicles and antitank 
guns behind, moved unencumbered for 
several miles, outflanked both the Panzer 
Lehr artillery and the remaining reserves 
of the regiment of the 2j^th Division at 
Marigny, and, at dawn, hastened the 
flight of a withdrawing enemy column. 
Some troops of the 30th Division moved 
easily into the loop of the Vire River 
while others cut the Canisy-St. L6 road. 

Except on the extreme right flank of 
the VII Corps where the 330th Infantry 
was denied for the third day the cross- 
roads on the Periers-St. L6 highway that 
constituted its original objective, de- 
velopments after daylight on 27 July 
indicated that the infantry was nearing 
fulfillment of its Cobra aims. The 9th 
Division, in a regimental attack against 
some 200 Germans, who were on a small 
ridge and were supported by four tanks 
and several antitank guns, destroyed the 
bulk of this force and dispersed the re- 



14 MS # P-159 (Stoeckler) ; MS # B-839 
(Heydte) ; MS # B-439 (Ziegelmann) . 



mainder. 15 The 4th Division sent its 
reconnaissance troop ahead to screen a 
rapid advance. 16 Strong resistance from 
enemy positions hastily erected during 
the night melted away. The 8th Infan- 
try cut the Carantilly-Canisy road and 
proceeded to a point more than seven 
miles south of the Periers-St. L6 high- 
way. To clear small pockets of bypassed 
Germans, General Barton committed 
portions of the 12 th Infantry, which had 
been in division reserve since the com- 
mencement of Cobra. Contingents of 
the 30th Division moved all the way into 
the loop of the Vire River and estab- 
lished physical contact with the 35th 
Division at the St. L6 bridge. Other 
units secured the two Vire River bridges 
on the main roads south of St. L6. Gen- 
eral Hobbs committed his reserve regi- 
ment, the 120th, which drove south 
along the Vire River for almost six miles 
against little opposition. 

"This thing has busted wide open," 
General Hobbs exulted. He was right. 
Evidence of German disintegration was 
plentiful. Some German soldiers were 
walking into command posts to sur- 
render; other were fleeing south or 
across the Vire River. 17 

On the morning of 28 July, the 330th 
Infantry at last was able to move against 
virtually no resistance to rejoin its parent 
unit, the 83d Division. In the 9th Di- 
vision sector, only an occasional round 



15 Leading his platoon in an assault across open 
ground in view of the enemy, 2d Lt. Edward F. 
Koritzke was killed but inspired his men to over- 
run the hostile positions. Koritzke was posthu- 
mously awarded the DSC. 

10 4th Div Msg, 1015, 27 Jul, 30th Div G—3 Jnl 
and File. 

17 Telecon, Hobbs and Birks, 2300, 27 Jul, 30th 
Div Jnl and File; 30th Div G—3 Jnl, entries 0725, 
2033, and 2100, 27 Jul. 



252 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



of artillery or mortar fire was falling by 
noon; small arms fire had ceased. Hav- 
ing fulfilled its Cobra assignment, the 
gth Division passed into reserve for rest 
and reconstitution. The 4th Division 
mopped up isolated enemy remnants and 
prepared to move south in a new opera- 
tion. The 30th Division, advancing 
south along the west bank of the Vire 
River, passed from control of the VII 
Corps. 

For the infantry units that had run 
interference, Operation Cobra had 
ended. General Hobbs perhaps typified 
infantry sentiment when he stated, "We 
may be the spearhead that broke the 
camel's back." 18 There was no doubt 
that the camel's back was broken and 
that the infantry had helped break it. 
But the armored forces of Operation 
Cobra also played their part. 

Commitment of Armor 

For the Americans, the critical day 
of the Cobra operation was 26 July, 
when General Collins had gambled. He 
committed some of his forces assembled 
for the exploitation before the situation 
was unquestionably ripe for an exploi- 
tation maneuver. Specifically, the in- 
fantry had not captured the towns of 
Marigny and St. Gilles, road centers 
considered prerequisite to an uninhibit- 
ed exploitation by mobile armored re- 
serves. 19 

The fact that Cobra on 26 July was 
to become a three-corps offensive actu- 
ally made it impossible for General Col- 
lins to wait for the infantry to seize Ma- 



18 Telecon, Hobbs and Birks, 2300, 27 Jul, 30th 
Div Jnl and File. 

19 See Ruppenthal Notes, ML-2185. 



rigny and St. Gilles. The success of the 
larger effort depended basically on a VII 
Corps breakthrough. Emphasizing this 
fact, General Bradley assigned to VII 
Corps all the air support available on 26 
July, thus obliging Collins to step up 
the attack. The only way to do this was 
to commit the armor. 

The basic gamble involved was the 
possibility that armored columns would 
congest the VII Corps battlefield. "The 
only doubtful part of it [the original 
Cobra plan] to my mind," General Col- 
lins had said two weeks earlier, "is we 
shouldn't count too much on fast move- 
ment of armored divisions through this 
country; if we make a break-through it 
is OK but until them . . . [the armored 
divisions] can't move any faster than 
the infantry." 20 To minimize conges- 
tion, General Collins called upon only 
part of his reserve, two armored columns 
instead of the three that were ready. 

The commitment of the mobile units 
on 26 July was not so much the start of 
the exploitation as an effort to deepen 
the penetration. Instead of assigning 
exploitation objectives, Collins told one 
of the armored columns to take Marigny, 
the other St. Gilles. Two hundred 
fighter-bombers were to attack each town 
in advance of the thrusts. 21 Only after 
these original infantry objectives were 
secured was the true exploitation phase 
of Cobra to begin. 

Having expected the Cobra air bom- 
bardment to obliterate the German de- 
fenses and the infantry to clear the 
routes of advance, the commanders of 
the mobile forces had planned to move 

20 FUSA Conf Notes, 12 Jul, FUSA G-3 Misc 
File. 

21 ist Div G-3 Jnl and File, entries 0500 and 
0550, 26 Jul. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



253 



at least as far as Marigny and St. Gilles 
with reconnaissance squadrons ahead of 
their main spearheads. Now a semiad- 
ministrative road march of this type was 
out of the question. The commanders 
replaced their reconnaissance units with 
assault troops and retained their artillery 
under centralized control rather than 
parceling it out to subordinate combat 
teams. 22 

Clearing the road to Marigny became 
the responsibility of Maj. Gen. Clarence 
R. Huebner, who commanded the ist 
Infantry Division and the attached Com- 
bat Command B of the 3d Armored Di- 
vision. Alerted on the afternoon of 25 
July to pass through the 9th Division 
the next day and capture Marigny, Gen- 
eral Huebner ordered CCB (Col. Tru- 
man E. Boudinot) and the reinforced 
18th Infantry (Col. George Smith, Jr.) 
to attack abreast astride the road. Not 
quite certain whether the 1st Division, 
which had motorized its infantry troops, 
was embarking on exploitation, a VII 
Corps staff officer in a routine telephone 
call to transmit the bomb safety line re- 
marked somewhat facetiously that his 
message was unnecessary if "you are 
going someplace and are going fast." 23 
General Huebner, who commanded one 
of the two divisions General Eisenhower 
had characterized as "tops" in the thea- 
ter, was planning to go somewhere fast 
all right. 24 He hoped to take Marigny 
quickly and proceed at once to exploit 
westward from Marigny to Coutances. 



22 1st Div FO's 38 and 39, 19 and 25 Jul; G-3 
Jnl, entry 1700, 25 Jul; Arty S-3 Per Rpt 38, 26 
Jul; [Pillsbury], 2d Armd Div in Opn Cobra, p. 
18; 3d Armd Div Arty Annex to 3d Armd Div FO 
5. '9 Jul- 

23 1st Div G— 3 Jnl, entry 2155, 25 Jul. 

21 Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Jul, Pogue Files. 



The 1st Division made its approach 
march to the vicinity of the Periers-St. 
L6 highway during the night of 25 July 
without incident. Shortly after day- 
break, 26 July, the leading units bypassed 
an enemy pocket of 150 men still north 
of the Cobra line of departure. Leaving 
the reduction of this small force to the 
reserve battalion of the 18th Infantry, 
the advance troops drove toward Ma- 
rigny. 25 

With the combat command on the 
right (west) of the road and the infantry 
regiment on the left, the 1st Division 
troops moved cautiously against small 
arms fire. Bomb craters in the roads 
and defended hedgerows bounding the 
fields were the principal deterrents to a 
rapid advance. Small roadblocks also 
slowed the attack. Artillery and tank 
fire eliminated most of the opposition, 
but only after the infantry components 
had received heavy casualties, particu- 
larly among key personnel. 

Near Marigny, the troops encountered 
the increasing resistance of the 353d Di- 
vision and the two companies of the 2d 
SS Panzer Division. Several Mark IV 
tanks and a few 75-mm. antitank guns 
north of the town halted progress early 
in the afternoon. Under cover of an 
extended tank fire fight,. CCB attempted 
an envelopment to the right but achieved 
no success. A tactical air strike late in 
the afternoon enabled armored elements 
to reach the northern edge of the town; 
the enveloping forces buttoned up for 
the night about a mile west of Ma- 
rigny. 26 

25 1st Div AAR, Jul, G-3 Jnl, 25 and 26 Jul, Situa- 
tion Overlay, 2400, 25 Jul, and Msgs, 0725 and 1010, 
26 Jul; 1st Div Arty S-3 Per Rpt 39, 26 Jul; 9th 
Div G— 3 Jnl, entries 0130 and 0210, 26 Jul. 

26 3d Armd Div CCB AAR, Jul, Action 25 Jul- 
31 J"'- 



254 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



The presence of American tanks in 
the northern outskirts of Marigny and 
the abortive envelopment led the 18th 
Infantry to the erroneous belief that the 
combat command had taken the town. 
Acting on this mistaken impression, the 
regiment sent a battalion to bypass the 
town on the east during the evening and 
take high ground south of Marigny. 
The battalion took some high ground 
shortly before midnight and reported 
completion of its mission. Unfortu- 
nately, the battalion had become lost in 
the darkness; not only was it on the 
wrong objective, its actual location was 
a mystery. 

The belief that Marigny had been 
captured was one of the factors leading 
to General Collins' order to continue 
the attacks during the night of 26 July. 
Specifically, Collins instructed General 
Huebner to commence his exploitation 
toward Coutances. To provide ad- 
ditional elbow room for the 1st Division, 
General Collins redrew the boundary 
between the 1st and 9th Divisions. 27 

General Huebner for his part dared 
not carry out the order. He was not 
sure exactly where all his front-line units 
were, for reports of their locations and 
dispositions had confused his headquar- 
ters throughout the day; he was not cer- 
tain that his troops had really secured 
Marigny; he was concerned by continu- 
ing resistance near Marigny; and, finally, 
he feared that large-scale movement dur- 
ing darkness would promote congestion 
and confusion. 28 



27 VII Corps Sitrep 101, 27 Jul, and Opns Memos 
48 and 49, 25 and 27 Jul (the latter confirming 
oral orders 26 Jul) ; 9th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1900, 
26 Jul. 

28 1st Div Arty S-3 Per Rpt 39, 26 Jul; VII Corps 
Tactical Study of the Terrain, 17 Jul. 



Still without Marigny after two days, 
the VII Corps had yet to launch its main 
exploiting effort westward to Coutances. 
As discouraging as this seemed to be, 
the success achieved on the other flank 
of the corps was quite the opposite. 

On the left (east) flank, Maj. Gen. Ed- 
ward H. Brooks, commanding the 2d 
Armored Division, had what was essen- 
tially a protective mission: guarding the 
Cobra flank on the south and southeast. 
Yet if General Brooks realized that his 
mission was defensive in nature, he gave 
no indication of it. So far as he was 
concerned, he was going to move. With 
the 2 2d Infantry (Col. Charles T. Lan- 
ham) attached, he was to attack in a 
column of combat commands, which 
eventually were to split and make inde- 
pendent thrusts. Brig. Gen. Maurice 
Rose's Combat Command A, with the 
2 2d Infantry attached, was to be the 
leading unit. 29 Rose's troops were to 
pass through the 30th Division zone and 
secure St. Gilles. 

Effecting the passage of lines without 
difficulty, CCA drove south early on 26 
July in a single column. 30 Almost im- 
mediately after the troops crossed the 
Periers— St. L6 highway, an enemy anti- 
tank gun destroyed one Sherman, but 
this was a blow not soon repeated. 
Brooks told Rose to get moving, and 
Rose complied. As the column began 
to roll, only scattered artillery and anti- 
tank fire and an occasional defended 
hedgerow or ditch provided any genuine 



29 Other elements of CCA were: 66th Armored 
Regiment, 702d Tank Destroyer Battalion, 14th 
Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and engineer, 
antiaircraft, medical, and maintenance detach- 
ments. 

30 2d Div AAR, Jul; see [Pillsbury], 2d Armd 
Div in Opn Cobra, p. 18. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



255 



resistance. When combined with the 
problem of bomb craters dotting the 
countryside, this was nevertheless suffi- 
cient to preclude a rapid advance. In 
the early afternoon a defended road- 
block several hundred yards north of St. 
Gilles held up progress for a short time, 
but tank fire and an air strike that de- 
stroyed four Mark IV tanks and a self- 
propelled gun soon eliminated the op- 
position. 

In midafternoon CCA rolled through 
St. Gilles. By this act, the combat com- 
mand launched the exploitation phase 
of Cobra, There was no longer any 
doubt that the German line had defi- 
nitely been penetrated. The VII Corps 
had achieved its breakthrough. 31 

Limited Exploitation 

South of St. Gilles, CCA of the ad 
Armored Division, with the 22d Infan- 
try still attached, headed for its initial 
objective in the exploitation; the high 
ground five miles beyond St. Gilles, 
ground commanding an extensive net- 
work of roads leading into the Cobra 
zone from the east and south. There, 
at St. Samson-de-Bonfosse, le Mesnil- 
Herman, and Hill 183, the armor would 
find good defensive positions from which 
to halt a possible German counterattack 
from across the Vire River. To reach 
the area, CCA had to pass through 
Canisy, not quite two miles south of St. 
Gilles. 

Proceeding steadily against mortar, 
artillery, and antitank fire interdicting 
the Canisy road, CCA had more difficulty 
with bomb craters, mine fields, and 
hedgerows than with the occasional 



"FII5A 




Troops Rolling Through Canisy 



enemy resistance. In late afternoon 
General Rose reported opposition in his 
zone negligible and estimated diat the 
rear of his column would soon clear St. 
Gilles. 32 Rose's optimism contributed 
materially to General Collins' decision 
to continue the corps attack during the 
night. 

Part of the reason why the opposition 
was negligible lay in the clearing opera- 
tions of the jjoth Division. Another 
part lay in the fact that the St. Gilles- 
Canisy road was the boundary separating 
the LXXXIV and II Parachute Corps 
sectors. Panzer Le.hr was specifically re- 
sponsible for the highway. The virtual 
destruction of Panzer Lehr left the road 
open. The 35 2d Division, manning the 
sector between the road and the river, 



"ad Armd Div Msgs, m o and 1830, sO Jul, 30th 
Div &-3 Jnl and File. 



256 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



was thus continually outflanked as Rose's 
combat command drove down an excel- 
lent route of advance, threatened solely 
by occasional flanking fire. 

Only as CCA neared the first buildings 
in Canisy was there any real resistance. 
At a railroad embankment north of 
Canisy where a bombed railway overpass 
had tumbled across the highway, a few 
Germans tried to make a stand; the com- 
bat command outflanked the position 
from the east and raked the defenders 
with enfilading fire. 33 Coincidentally, 
dive bombers struck Canisy and set half 
the town ablaze. The armor rolled 
through the burning town that evening. 

Just beyond Canisy, General Rose 
split his command into two columns. 
One moved southeastward toward St. 
Samson-de-Bonfosse, the other southward 
toward le Mesnil-Herman. Although 
division headquarters assumed that the 
combat command had halted for the 
night, Rose drove his men forward with 
single-minded purpose and determina- 
tion in compliance with General Collins' 
and General Brooks' orders. 34 An hour 
before midnight one column entered St. 
Samson-de-Bonfosse without a fight. 
Three hours later the other seized the 
road intersection just north of le Mesnil- 
Herman. Only then, with part of the 
initial objective in hand, did General 
Rose sanction a halt. 

The next morning, 27 July, as bat- 
teries of the 14th Armored Field Artil- 
lery Battalion leapfrogged forward to 
give continuous fire support, the com- 
bat command engaged enemy tanks and 
antitank guns before taking and securing 



83 2d Armd Div Msgs, 1930 and 2030, 26 Jul, 
30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

84 2d Armd Div G-3 Per Rpt 4, 27 Jul. 



le Mensil-Herman. Hill 183 fell during 
the afternoon. With that, CCA com- 
pleted its initial mission. 35 

In two days Combat Command A had 
lost less than 200 men, 3 medium tanks, 
and 2 small trucks. Not only the weak- 
ness of the opposition but the dispatch 
with which General Rose had secured 
his objective had prevented higher casu- 
alties. Even so, Rose was not satisfied 
with his accomplishment; he complained 
that the poor condition of the roads, the 
absence of road bypasses, and the hedge- 
rowed terrain had slowed his move- 
ment. 36 

As General Rose prepared to recon- 
noiter in force toward Villebaudon and 
Tessy-sur-Vire on the morning of 28 
July, word came that CCA's role in 
Cobra was over. The combat com- 
mand and the attached infantry regi- 
ment were soon to pass from the control 
of the VII Corps. 

While General Rose's attack had 
moved smoothly against light opposi- 
tion, General Huebner had met unex- 
pected difficulty at Marigny on 26 July. 
The 1st Division, with Combat Com- 
mand B of the 3d Armored Division at- 
tached, had been unable to start the 
main effort of the exploitation— its thrust 
westward from Marigny to Coutances to 
slash across the rear of the German 
troops facing north against the VIII 
Corps. Since the VIII Corps had be- 
gun to exert pressure from the north on 
26 July, it became vital for the 1st Di- 
vision to get to Coutances at once in or- 

35 2d Armd Div Msg, 1130, 27 Jul, 30th Div Jnl 
and File. Lt. Col. Lindsay C. Herkness, Jr., was 
awarded the DSC for his heroic leadership of ar- 
mored troops; Capt. Mario T. DeFelice, a medical 
officer, was awarded the DSC for heroism. 

36 2d Armd Div Msg, 0730, 27 Jul, 30th Div Jnl 
and File. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



257 



der to execute the squeeze play that was 
part of the basic Cobra idea. 

Even though General Huebner did 
not possess a secure pivot point at Ma- 
rigny, he felt impelled to begin his ex- 
ploitation on the morning of 27 July. 
He ordered Colonel Boudinot's CCB to 
initiate the westward thrust toward 
Coutances. In the meantime, Colonel 
Smith's 18th Infantry was to attack Ma- 
rigny and high ground south of the town 
in order to secure the road network re- 
quired for sustaining the exploitation. 

Getting CCB on the way to Coutances 
conformed with the original 1st Division 
plan, a plan devised to employ as the 
axis of advance the east-west Coutances- 
St. L6 highway, which passes through 
rolling bocage country. West of Ma- 
rigny the highway runs along the south- 
ern slope of a ridge line formed by a 
complex of three hills— the highest rising 
580 feet— a mile or so north of the high- 
way. This prominent terrain feature 
dominating the approaches to Coutances 
from the north and east provided an 
excellent natural blocking position 
astride the routes of withdrawal of the 
German forces facing the VIII Corps, 
and together with Coutances was the 1st 
Division's objective. 

Of the three hills forming the ridge 
line, the first, five miles west of Marigny, 
is near Camprond. The second, two 
miles farther to the west, is near Cam- 
bernon. The third is near Monthu- 
chon. To General Huebner the early 
capture of these hills was of double im- 
portance, for they dominated also his 
own route of approach to Coutances. 

General Huebner had selected his at- 
tached armored command to spearhead 
the attack both because a rapid advance 
along the highway was essential for suc- 



cess of the Cobra scheme of maneuver 
and because the highway between Ma- 
rigny and Coutances was excellent. 
CCB was to seize the first objective, 
Camprond, then the third objective, 
Monthuchon. Motorized infantry regi- 
mental combat teams of organic 1st Di- 
vision troops were to follow in column. 
The 18th Infantry was to relieve CCB 
first at Camprond, then at Monthuchon. 
In turn, the reinforced 16th Infantry 
(Col. Frederick W. Gibb) was to relieve 
the 18th at Camprond. The reinforced 
26th Infantry (Col. John F. R. Seitz) 
was to follow secondary roads on the left 
flank of the other units and seize the 
second objective, Cambernon. In the 
end, all three infantry regiments would 
be lined up on the three objectives to 
the rear of the German line. 

After being relieved at Monthuchon, 
CCB had a further mission, which was 
determined by the location of Monthu- 
chon on the north-south Periers-Cou- 
tances highway, one of the main escape 
routes for Germans withdrawing before 
VIII Corps. The combat command was 
to be prepared to do one of two things: 
if the VIII Corps had not pushed back 
the Germans, CCB was to attack north- 
ward toward Periers; if the Germans 
were trying to escape to the south, CCB 
was to proceed southwestward from 
Monthuchon to high ground a mile or 
so north of Coutances in order to block 
the three main highways leading into 
Coutances from the north. 37 



37 1st Div FO 38, 19 Jul; Annex 1 to 3d Armd 
Div FO 4, 19 Jul. There was some question on 
the final mission of the combat command. The 
3d Armored Division CCB Field Order 5 of 20 
July states that the combat command was to pre- 
pare to attack north toward Periers only after 
blocking the roads above Coutances. 



258 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Because of the unexpected resistance 
at Marigny, General Huebner changed 
his plan of maneuver on the morning 
of 27 July. Since continued German 
possession of Marigny denied the 1st Di- 
vision an adequate road net, General 
Huebner withheld one regiment, the 
26th, in order to reduce the hazard of 
traffic congestion. CCB was to secure 
Camprond, the first objective. Instead 
of following the armor, the 18 th Infan- 
try was to capture Marigny, then send 
a battalion to free the armor at Cam- 
prond. The 16th Infantry, instead of 
relieving the 18th at Camprond, was to 
make a wider swing to the west, eche- 
loned to the left rear of CCB, and move 
all the way to the blocking positions on 
the highways just north of Coutances. 
Meanwhile, CCB was to attack and se- 
cure in turn all three hill objectives. 38 

The 18th Infantry cleared Marigny 
on the morning of 27 July, and that 
afternoon two battalions attacked to the 
south against strong opposition in an 
attempt to seize the high ground needed 
to secure the town. 39 The reserve bat- 
talion in midafternoon moved westward 
along the Coutances highway to relieve 
CCB at Camprond. 

Early that morning CCB had lunged 
down the Coutances highway. 40 Spear- 
headed by the reconnaissance battalion 
and divided into three balanced teams 
or task forces (a company each of medi- 
um tanks and armored infantry), the 
combat command advanced with two 
teams abreast. Against disorganized op- 
position, the attack carried four miles 



38 1st Div AAR, Jul. 

88 VII Corps Msg, 0930, 27 Jul, VII Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 

10 3d Armd Div CCB Opns Overlay and FO, 26 
Jul. 



in four hours. Shortly after midday the 
task force on the right turned to the 
north and struck cross-country for the 
hill near Camprond, two miles away. 
By midafternoon the task force held the 
objective. 

The advance along the highway had 
been virtually a road march except for 
casual encounters with German motor- 
cyclists, ambulances, and staff cars. 
Progress on the flanks had been more 
difficult, for the presence of hedgerows 
enabled scattered enemy groups to form 
hasty defenses and resist with determina- 
tion. The result was a gain on a nar- 
row front scarcely wider than the width 
of the highway. 

Moving to relieve the force at Cam- 
prond, the battalion of the 18th Infan- 
try encountered virtually no opposition 
on the Coutances highway, but when it 
moved off the road toward the hill small 
enemy groups supported by random 
tanks began to cause trouble. With the 
help of fighter-bombers, the battalion 
gained the hill shortly before midnight. 

Meanwhile, the 16th Infantry, which 
was to make a parallel advance on the 
left and move swiftly to Coutances, was 
unable to pass through Marigny until 
late afternoon of 27 July. Against scat- 
tered opposition and sporadic fire, the 
regiment advanced in a column of bat- 
talions immediately south of the Cou- 
tances highway. Shortly before mid- 
night the leading battalion came abreast 
of CCB at a point directly south of Cam- 
prond. 

Thus at midnight, 27 July, the 1st Di- 
vision had advanced on a front not quite 
three miles wide to a point about five 
miles west of Marigny. 41 Though no 

41 ist Div Situation Overlay, 2400, 27 Jul, 9th 
Div G—3 Jnl and File. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



259 



organized enemy opposition was appar- 
ent, small enemy groups supported by 
an occasional tank or antitank gun 
formed islands of resistance, floating and 
static, in the American sea of advance, 
endangering both supply and evacua- 
tion. When twenty-one supply trucks 
loaded with rations, gasoline, ammuni- 
tion, and military police went forward 
from Marigny, a company of medium 
tanks accompanied them to give protec- 
tion. The column reached Camprond 
without incident, but, returning after 
dark with two truckloads of prisoners, 
the column had to fight its way back to 
Marigny. 42 The attempt of a reconnais- 
sance platoon to cross the Lozon River 
three miles west of Marigny stimulated 
a counterattack by about a hundred 
Germans supported by a medium tank 
and an antitank gun. The platoon had 
to call for infantry and armor reinforce- 
ments from the gth and ist Division be- 
fore dispersing the enemy group. 43 

The result of the main Cobra ef- 
fort produced disappointment. "Gen- 
erally, we are not being able to push 
very fast," the VII Corps G-3 admit- 
ted. 44 General Huebner had hoped 
to rip into the rear of the German de- 
fense line. His troops were to have cut 
German telephone wires, disrupted com- 
munications, and in general produced 
confusion and disorganization. 45 But 
instead of raising havoc in a slashing ex- 
ploitation, the 1st Division had not yet 
secured Marigny and was only half way 
to Coutances. 

42 3d Armd Div CCB AAR, Jul. 

43 4th Cav Recon Sq (Mechanized) Unit Rpt 1, 
27 Jul, 1st Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

44 VII Corps Msg, 0930, 27 Jul, VII Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 

45 1st Div FO 38, 19 Jul. 



The reason for the disappointing ad- 
vance by the forces carrying the main 
Cobra effort was to be found in the 
German dispositions. The LXXXIV 
Corps left had made a withdrawal along 
the Cotentin west coast during the night 
of 26 July with the intention of estab- 
lishing a new main line of resistance. 
Yet on 27 July the contemplated posi- 
tions of this line were becoming unten- 
able even before they were established 
because of the VII Corps threat develop- 
ing west of Marigny toward the German 
right (east) flank. When Hausser and 
Choltitz suddenly became aware that 
American armored columns were mov- 
ing through the Marigny-St. Gilles gap, 
they realized that they would have to 
move fast to avoid encirclement from 
the east. There was no alternative to 
continuing the withdrawal along the 
Cotentin west coast. To insure escape 
from encirclement, they erected a north- 
south defensive line facing eastward. 
Units manning the line included ele- 
ments of the depleted ijth SS Panzer 
Grenadier Division, reluctantly with- 
drawing paratroopers, the 333d Divi- 
sion, and small elements of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division. 

During the early afternoon of 27 July 
Choltitz learned that American troops— 
CCB of the 3d Armored Division, at- 
tached to the 1st Division— seemed to 
have clear sailing toward Coutances. 
American scouting parties on minor 
roads had made contact with artillery 
units of the 353d Division and the 
LXXXIV Corps, and German artillery- 
men were fighting as infantry. Dis- 
covering also that American troops had 
reached Guesnay, Choltitz ordered the 
engineer battalion of the iyth SS Panzer 



260 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Grenadier Division to "proceed immedi- 
ately via Montcuit and Cambernon to 
the railroad junction and seal off the 
front to the east if you are not [now] 
engaged in battle. 46 

Harassed continuously by fighter- 
bombers, the engineer battalion marched 
eight miles and took positions along the 
railroad that night. Just to the north, 
the battalion found a company of the 
2d SS Panzer Division defending Cam- 
bernon with ten Panther tanks. This 
north-south defensive line facing east- 
ward, though far from strong, was ef- 
ficacious in slowing the 1st Division 
attack toward Coutances on 27 July. 
Farther south, hastily organized positions 
between Carantilly and Quibou held up 
another American armored column, this 
one driving toward Montpinchon. 

Hausser, meanwhile, had requested 
permission to withdraw the LXXXIV 
Corps to the Geffosses— St. Sauveur- 
Lendelin line. Soon afterward he 
wanted authorization to withdraw even 
farther, to Coutances. In both cases, 
he planned to make the withdrawal 
under the protection of the 2d SS Panzer 
Division, which was moving into the 
Cambernon sector. 47 However, all plans 
were held in abeyance because Kluge, 
somewhat inexplicably to those in the 
Cotentin who awaited his advice, was 
inspecting the Panzer Group West front 
near Caen. Deciding they could wait 
no longer, Hausser and Choltitz agreed 
to withdraw to Coutances and hold it 
as the anchor point of a new line— an 



48 iyth SS Pz Gren Div Msg, 1415, 27 Jul, iyth 
SS Engr Bn KTB; see also Telecon, Helmdach and 
Speidel, 1310, 27 Jul, AGp B KTB, and Choltitz, 
Soldat Unter Soldaten, pp. 205-06. 

47 Telecons, Pemsel and Speidel, 1400, 27 Jul, 
and Hausser and Speidel, 1530, 27 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



arc through Cambernon, Savigny, and 
Cerisy-la-Salle. Unfortunately for their 
plan, they were unaware that Panzer 
Lehr for all practical purposes no longer 
existed, and they were counting on 
Panzer Lehr to hold the Soulle River 
line at Pont-Brocard. 

When Kluge returned from the Caen 
sector late on the afternoon of 27 July, 
he received a detailed report of a badly 
deteriorating situation. The salient 
points were that the 353d Division was 
presumed cut off and lost; the 353d Divi- 
sion on the west bank of the Vire was 
badly battered and holding a shaky 
security line facing northwestward into 
a yawning gap; and remnants of Panzer 
Lehr and the 275th Division, reinforced 
by what was hoped was a tank battalion 
of the 2d SS Panzer Division, were sup- 
posedly holding a line at Quibou and 
westward. The Americans were run- 
ning wild; details were not clear, but 
some troops were known to have reached 
the village of Dangy, near the vicinity 
of the Panzer Lehr and the 275th Divi- 
sion command posts. 

In this situation, Hausser recom- 
mended that Kluge permit him to re- 
store order by straightening the Seventh 
Army front. Hausser proposed to have 
the // Parachute Corps withdraw the 3d 
Parachute Division (east of the Vire) 
"platoon by platoon" and have the 
LXXXIV Corps pull back to the banks 
of the Soulle and Sienne Rivers. 48 
Actually, this maneuver relied on using 
the nonexistent Panzer Lehr to hold a 
six-mile gap between Pont-Brocard and 
the shaky 352^ Division on the west 
bank of the Vire. Furthermore, it 



48 Telecon, Kluge and Pemsel, 1700, 27 Jul, AGp 
B KTB. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



261 



counted on a tank battalion of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division at Quibou that in reality 
had but fourteen tanks. 

Still primarily concerned with the 
Caen sector held by Panzer Group West, 
Kluge refused to countenance the with- 
drawal by the // Parachute Corps, which 
might expose the Panzer Group West 
flank. He instead ordered the // Para- 
chute Corps to defend in place in 
the St. L6—Caumont sector while the 
LXXXIV Corps anchored its forces on 
Coutances and executed a fighting with- 
drawal to the Soulles-Sienne river line. 
Meanwhile, he was assembling an ex- 
perienced and somewhat rested armored 
division in the Caumont area for action 
in the Cotentin. Aided by whatever 
could be found of Panzer Lehr, the 
275th Division, and the 2d SS Panzer 
Division, the experienced armored divi- 
sion was to launch a counterattack to 
close the gap between the LXXXIV and 
// Parachute Corps of the Seventh Army. 

In addition to the pth Panzer Division, 
which Kluge had requested on the pre- 
vious day, he asked OKW to send a total 
of four infantry divisions to Normandy 
from the Fifteenth and Nineteenth 
Armies. Still concerned with the Allied 
threat to invade southern France, yet 
realizing that Kluge's situation was 
serious, Hitler approved release of the 
pth Panzer Division for commitment in 
Normandy. On the following day, 28 
July, he authorized the movement to 
Normandy of three infantry divisions, 
the 84th, the 331st, and the 708th. 49 

Meanwhile, in the Cotentin those 
LXXXIV Corps units still north of the 
St. L6-Coutances highway infiltrated 



"AGp B and OB WEST KTB's, 27-28 Jul; OB 
WEST KTB, Anlage 8j8. 



south through the VII Corps column or 
moved around the western end of the 
American point during the night of 
27 July. Covered by a reinforced regi- 
ment of the 2d SS Panzer Division, 
which held a defensive arc from Cam- 
bernon to Savigny, the units on the 
Cotentin west coast continued to move 
south on 28 July. The units were the 
depleted 243d Division, the kampf- 
gruppe of the 265th Division, and ele- 
ments of the yyth Division and of the 
5th Parachute Division, all apparently 
under the operational control of the 
gist Division. The iyth SS Panzer 
Grenadier Division moved in broad day- 
light, though harassed from the air, to 
Cerisy-la-Salle in time to meet an Ameri- 
can armored column there. At the same 
time the 6th Parachute Regiment, to- 
gether with 2d SS Panzer Division tanks 
and the engineer battalion of the iyth 
SS, covered the rear of the withdrawal 
and protected Coutances from positions 
near Ouville. 

These moves reflected and contributed 
to the changing situation. Already, on 
the evening of 27 July, General Bradley 
had altered plans by assigning General 
Huebner's last two objectives— Monthu- 
chon and the high ground north of 
Coutances— to the VIII Corps. 50 But 
since Huebner saw no certainty that the 
VIII Corps could reach these objectives 
ahead of the 1st Division, he proceeded 
on the tentative assumption that they 
might still be valid for him. Huebner 
thus ordered a continuation of his attack 
on 28 July. CCB was to take Cam- 
bernon, the 16th Infantry to capture 
Monthuchon, the 18th Infantry to re- 
main in the Marigny area, and the 26th 



60 FUSA FO 2, 28 Jul; see below, Ch. XIV. 



262 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Infantry to relieve CCB at Cambernon. 
After relief, CCB would be free to drive 
to the high ground north of Coutances 
if the VIII Corps was nowhere in evi- 
dence. 51 

Developments on 28 July illustrated 
the discrepancy between the results of 
Cobra as planned and as executed. 
North of the St. L6-Coutances highway, 
CCB met little opposition on the move 
toward Cambernon. After knocking 
out two Mark V Panther tanks with 
bazookas, reconnaissance troops took the 
objective, securing it by noon. When 
Colonel Boudinot asked permission to 
continue westward to Monthuchon, Gen- 
eral Huebner appr oved after a check 
with General Collins. 



{Map VI) 



Almost immediately word came that 
VIII Corps had already captured Mon- 
thuchon. Still anxious to take a part of 
his original objective, Boudinot ordered 
his troops to bypass Monthuchon and 
take the high ground north of Coutances. 
Huebner could not sanction a crossing 
of the north— south Periers— Monthu- 
chon-Coutances highway because it had 
been reserved for the VIII Corps, and he 
countermanded Boudinot's order. Al- 
though reconnaissance elements were al- 
ready infiltrating across the road and 
outposting the high ground north of 
Coutances, the main body of CCB 
stopped in time to prevent serious in- 
termingling with the VIII Corps. 52 
Forced to halt, the tankers could see the 
city of Coutances less than two miles 
away. 

Although Combat Command B had 
found little to obstruct its advance, the 



51 1st Div AAR, Jul, and G-3 Jnl, 28 Jul. 

52 1st Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1450 and 1537, 28 
Jul; 3d Armd Div CCB AAR, Jul. 



16th Infantry, attacking westward to- 
ward Monthuchon in a zone south of 
the St. L6-Coutances highway, advanced 
only slightly before reaching a well-or- 
ganized defensive line. "Any contact 
with the enemy?" a division staff officer 
asked on the telephone. "Three hun- 
dred and sixty degree contact," came 
the somewhat exaggerated reply. 53 The 
regiment made no further progress dur- 
ing the afternoon, even though regi- 
mental attacks brought severe casualties 
and the loss of fifteen tanks, seven of 
them mediums. Tactical aircraft, which 
might have helped, were grounded be- 
cause of cloudy weather. 

Shortly before nightfall General 
Huebner told CCB to go to the aid of 
the 16th Infantry. Turning to the 
southeast and attacking, the combat com- 
mand pinched the rear of the enemy 
position. Caught in a trap, the Ger- 
man defense disintegrated. Before mid- 
night CCB and the 16th Infantry made 
contact. 

Committed last, the 26th Infantry ex- 
ecuted the 1st Division's final Cobra 
action. Having passed through Marigny 
during the morning of 28 July, it moved 
westward to take Cambernon. CCB's 
quick seizure of Cambernon and the 
cancellation of Monthuchon and Cout- 
ances as objectives for the VII Corps 
prompted General Huebner to change 
the regimental mission to that of sweep- 
ing the left flank of the division. Ad- 
vancing through terrain infested by 
stragglers and remnants of German 
units, the 26th Infantry executed what 
was essentially a mop-up operation. In 
the early evening the leading battalion 
turned and faced south to exert pressure 



16th Inf S-3 Jnl, 28 Jul. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH 



263 



on the rear of German troops trapped 
near the village of Savigny. 54 

Like CCB's shift to the south, the 26th 
Infantry's turn to the south was a con- 
sequence of the changing situation de- 
veloping out of Cobra. According to 
the plan, the main battle was to have 
occurred in the triangular region formed 
on the Cotentin west coast between 
Lessay and Coutances by the highways 
fronr* Lessay and Coutances to St. L6. 
As the VIII Corps exerted pressure south 
from the Lessay-Periers road, the main 
exploiting force of the VII Corps was to 
have raced to Coutances to cut off Ger- 
man escape. "Did we lose the big fish 



64 1st Div AAR, Jul, and Situation Overlay, 2400, 
28 Jul. S. Sgt. George E. Jackson received the DSC 
for heroic action that day. 



in the trap?" a 1st Division officer 
asked. "Yes, probably," came the re- 
ply. 55 The division had lost two big 
fish: the prestige of capturing Coutances 
and the opportunity of trapping large 
numbers of Germans north of the St. 
L6-Coutances highway. In three days, 
the division had taken only 565 prison- 
ers. 56 The bulk of the Germans, by 
escaping the VII Corps main effort, had 
slipped through the Cobra noose. As a 
result, the fighting shifted to the region 
south of the Coutances-St. L6 highway. 
The 1st Division had little alternative 
but to face south and assume the role 
that the VIII Corps had earlier played, 
the role of a pressure force. 

66 16th Inf Jnl, 28 Jul. 

56 1 st Div G-2 Per Rpt 39, 28 Jul. 



CHAPTER XIV 



The Breakthrough Developed 



The Second Thrust Toward 
Coutances 

When night came on 26 July, the 
second day of Operation Cobra, General 
Collins still had one uncommitted unit, 
the 3d Armored Division (less CCB). 
Although scheduled to enter the fight 
on 26 July along with the other two 
armored columns, the 3d Armored had 
been withheld because of the uncertainty 
about the extent of the Cobra penetra- 
tion. It was located in the VII Corps 
center where it might be used either to 
defend against counterattack or to rein- 
force success at any point within the 
corps. 1 

When operations on 26 July left no 
doubt that a clear penetration had been 
made, General Collins told the com- 
mander, General Watson, to begin ex- 
ecuting his origi nal mission the next 
morning, 27 July. | {See Map V7\ Em- 



ploying General Hickey's Combat Com- 
mand A (with a battalion of the 1st 
Division's 26th Infantry attached), the 
3d Armored Division was to attack 
through the middle of the Marigny-St. 
Gilles gap to the vicinity of Carantilly 
and Canisy. At Cerisy-la-Salle the divi- 
sion was to turn to the west, secure 



Montpinchon, cut the north-south high- 
way about half way between Coutances 
and Gavray, and set up blocking posi- 
tions south of Coutances on high ground 
overlooking the roads leading south to 
Gavray and Brehal. 

This was basically a defensive mission. 
In making a wide envelopment en route 
to Coutances, the 3d Armored Division 
was to thwart the northward movement 
of German reinforcements against the 
1st Division and its attached CCB. 
On the other hand, should Cobra 
thoroughly disorganize the Germans and 
force their withdrawal, the 3d Armored 
Division would be in position to block 
the southern exits from Coutances. If 
the VIII Corps reached Coutances ahead 
of the 3d Armored Division, General 
Watson was to halt at the Coutances- 
Gavray road in order to circumvent 
traffic congestion between VII and VIII 
Corps forces in a subsequent exploita- 
tion of Cobra. Because on 26 July a 
deep exploitation hardly seemed likely, 
General Collins told General Watson to 
destroy all bridges over the Sienne River 
not previously knocked out by air bom- 
bardment. 2 



1 3d Armd Div Ltr of Instrs, 26 Jul (confirming 
oral orders issued by the corps commander on the 
evening of 25 July) . 



2 FUSA Outline Plan Cobra, 13 Jul; VII Corps 
FO 6 (rev) , 20 Jul; 3d Armd Div Amendment to 
FO 4, 20 Jul; Ltr, Destruction of Bridges, 22 Jul; 
Memo, 23 Jul (an extract of VII Corps Msg, 23 
Jul) ; Ltr of Instrs, 24 Jul. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



265 



Dividing CCA into three task forces- 
each basically a battalion of tanks 
and one of armored infantry— General 
Hickey sent the comand across the 
Periers-St. L6 highway in column early 
on 27 July. The troops were to drive 
forward aggressively, outflanking or by- 
passing resistance and avoiding hedgerow 
fighting. Though the road net was not 
the best for rapid armored advance, little 
opposition was expected because the 4th 
Division already had passed through the 
area. With Operation Cobra well on 
the way to success, there seemed no rea- 
son why the armored column should not 
move quickly to the village of Cerisy-la- 
Salle, then swing to the west. 3 

This line of thought did not take 
into account certain obstacles— bomb 
craters, wrecked vehicles, and traffic con- 
gestion. The leading task force met a 
well-organized strongpoint southeast of 
Marigny around noon of 27 July and lost 
four of its medium tanks. While the 
head of the column sought to disengage, 
the rest of the armor jammed up along 
the roads to the rear for a distance of 
almost ten miles. Though the point 
finally broke contact and bypassed the 
resistance (which the 12 th Infantry of 
the 4th Division cleared later in the 
day), another obstacle developed in the 
Carantilly-Canisy region. Here CCA's 
advance units encountered several Ger- 
man tanks and antitank guns deployed 
along a railroad embankment. Pre- 
vented from bypassing this resistance be- 
cause of inadequate roads, the leading 
task force had no choice but to fight. 



3 3d Armd Div CCA AAR, Jul, and Warning Or 
der, 19 Jul; 3d Armd Div FO 4, 19 Jul, FO 5, 20 
Jul, and G-3 Per Rpt 34, 28 Jul. 



Heavy fire from CCA's tanks eventually 
subdued the defenses, but again the bulk 
of the column had to wait impotently for 
several hours along the roads to the 
rear. Traffic congestion and more en- 
emy pockets prompted a halt shortly 
after dark. 

The advance had been disappointing. 
The third task force in the column was 
still far back in the vicinity of Marigny 
and St. Gilles, the second was in the 
Carantilly-Canisy area, and the head of 
the combat command was more than 
three miles short of Cerisy-la-Salle, the 
pivot point for the westward thrust to- 
ward Coutances. 4 

The villages of Cerisy-la-Salle, on a 
hill almost 400 feet high, and Montpin- 
chon, on a mound about 425 feet high 
two miles to the west and on the other 
side of a steep-walled valley, dominate 
the surrounding terrain in general and 
in particular the road net westward to 
Coutances. The 3d Armored Division 
commander, General Watson, had as- 
sumed that Cobra would develop so 
rapidly that CCA would occupy Cerisy- 
la-Salle without difficulty. Plans had 
thus been prepared for operations only 
in the area west of that village— along 
the Montpinchon-Coutances axis. 

On the evening of 27 July, the situa- 
tion demanded a change. CCA had 
started a day late, and its approach 
march had been disappointingly slow. 
In addition, there were indications that 
the Germans were in the process of 
establishing a front line facing east- 
ward to cover a withdrawal through 
Coutances. Should they institute a full- 
scale withdrawal, they would inevitably 
try to pass through the Montpinchon- 



4 3d Armd Div G—3 Per Rpt 33, 27 Jul. 



266 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Cerisy-la-Salle region and hold the com- 
manding terrain. If CCA followed the 
original plan and passed through Cerisy- 
la-Salle in column, it would continue to 
move across the German front and be 
exposed to flanking fire. It might even 
get involved in an engagement at Cerisy- 
la-Salle or Montpinchon that might pre- 
vent the armor from reaching Coutances 
in time to block German withdrawal 
through that important road center. 
Thus, a quicker way to Coutances had to 
be found, but at the same time Cerisy- 
la-Salle and Montpinchon had to be 
seized and secured to deny the Germans 
dominating terrain, which in their hands 
would facilitate their escape from the 
Coutances area. 

General Hickey's solution, which Gen- 
eral Watson approved, was to start his 
turn westward toward Coutances at once 
and to move on a broad front. The 
leading t; sk force was to turn west from 
Canisy, bypass Cerisy-la-Salle on the 
north, and drive to Montpinchon. The 
second task force in the CCA column was 
to continue to Cerisy-la-Salle and cap- 
ture the high ground there. The last 
task force in the column was to assume 
the CCA main effort, swing westward 
from Cara ntilly, and hea d straight for 



Coutances. {See Map VI. 



Despite hopes tor success, CCA was 
due for another day of disappointment 
on 28 July. Because of traffic conges- 
tion, the main effort from Carantilly did 
not get started until midafternoon. 
Even then terrain broken by hedgerows 
and small hills as well as a dearth of 
good roads slowed the advance markedly. 
Clearing isolated resistance, the task 
force in late afternoon reached a point 
about five miles west of Carantilly only 



to run into a German pocket near 
Savigny, part of the same one that the 
1st Division's 26th Infantry had en- 
countered a few hundred yards to the 
north. Together, the 26th Infantry and 
CCA eliminated the pocket, but not 
until the following day. 

In the meantime, the task forces mov- 
ing on Cerisy-la-Salle and Montpinchon 
had made few gains. Troops of the 
lyth SS Panzer Grenadier Division held 
the commanding terrain tenaciously and, 
from good positions on the hedgerowed 
slopes of both hills, refused to give way, 
even in the face of bombing and strafing 
by sixteen planes. The resistance at 
Cerisy-la-Salle and Montpinchon weak- 
ened only when night afforded the Ger- 
mans concealment for withdrawal. The 
next day, 29 July, when the two task 
forces of CCA renewed their attacks, 
the opposition had virtually vanished. 
Moving together, the task forces con- 
tinued with little difficulty to the north- 
south Coutances-Gavray highway. 

Like the 1st Division, CCA had not 
crossed the Cotentin in time to ensnare 
the German forces. The Germans had 
escaped and thus had thwarted the 
original Cobra intent. The Americans 
were not sure whether their threat of 
encirclement had made the Germans 
pull out or whether the pressure of the 
VIII Corps had driven them out before 
the trap could be sprung. 

The Pressure Force 

As "the direct pressure force," VIII 
Corps was to tie down the Germans to 
prevent their disengagement and with- 
drawal before the completion of the VII 
Corps envelopment. While the VII 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



267 



Corps was supposed to block the escape 
routes of the Germans opposing VIII 
Corps, VIII Corps was to cross the 
Lessay-Periers highway on a broad front, 
advance half way to Coutances (to the 
lateral highway from Geffosses through 
St. Sauveur-Lendelin to Marigny), and 
apply pressure to crush the trapped Ger- 
man forces. 5 

With four experienced infantry divi- 
sions, a recently arrived armored divi- 
sion, and a two-squadron cavalry group, 
and with nine battalions of corps artil- 
lery (five heavy and four medium) and 
a sufficient quantity of ammunition and 
supplies for a major operation, General 
Middleton planned to attack with his 
four infantry divisions abreast. 6 His 
difficulty was the terrain on the VIII 
Corps front. 

Theoretically, the VIII Corps zone 
was a fifteen-mile portion of the Cotentin 
between the west coast and the Lozon 
River, but since the 330th Infantry of 
the 83d Division was attacking in con- 
junction with VII Corps, General Mid- 
dleton's sector actually stopped at the 
Taute River. The troops of the VIII 
Corps facing south toward the Lessay- 
Periers-St. L6 highway held an ir- 
regularly shaped front of from one to 
five miles north of the highway The 
line followed the north banks of the Ay 
estuary and the Ay and Seves Rivers and 
cut across the Carentan-Periers isthmus. 
{See Map V.) 

On the coast, the 106th Cavalry Group 
looked toward the Ay estuary. The 

"FUSA Outline Plan Cobra, 13 Jul; VIII Corps 
FO 8, 15 Jul, and G-3 Sec Msg, 20 Jul, 8th Div 
G-3 Jnl File. 

"VIII Corps G-3 Per Rpt, 25 Jul, and Amend- 
ment 1 to FO 8, 15 Jul; Gen Bd Arty Rpt, App. 
C, Arty Support in Opn Cobra. 



79th Division was opposite the town of 
Lessay and faced the Ay River, which 
meanders across an open, swampy flood 
plain that offered the Germans superb 
fields of fire. The Germans had de- 
stroyed the only bridge across the Ay, 
the one to Lessay, and had mined the 
only good ford. Between the Ay and 
the Seves, the 8th Division held a nar- 
row front where hedgerows constituted 
natural defensive obstacles in depth. 
Along the Seves, the 90th Division 
looked across a flood plain to the island 
of St. Germain, still held by the German 
forces that had turned back the division 
a week earlier. The 4th Armored Divi- 
sion occupied the western portion of the 
Carentan-Periers isthmus, and the 83d 
Division held the eastern part. 

Two good highways lead south— one 
from Lessay, the other from Periers— 
and converge at Coutances. The ter- 
rain between these roads was in the 8th 
Division zone. Between the Ay and 
Seves Rivers it was thick with hedge- 
rows, though the least unfavorable on 
the corps front for offensive action. 
General Middleton chose to make his 
main effort there with the 8th Division, 
which was to attack frontally to the south 
and effect a penetration. The 79th 
Division was to follow through the gap, 
turn west to outflank the enemy posi- 
tions south of the Ay, and seize Lessay. 
The 90th Division was to bypass the 
St. Germain area on both sides and 
advance on Periers, while the 83d Divi- 
sion was to attack southwest along the 
west bank of the Taute and eventually 
cross the river. When all four divisions 
were south of the Lessay-St. L6 highway, 
they were to move to the objective 
line, the Geffosses-St. Sauver-Lendelin- 



268 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Marigny road. The 4th Armored Divi- 
sion, pinched out by the advance, was to 
revert to First Army control. 7 

Early on the morning of 26 July the 
VIII Corps Artillery delivered twenty- 
five prearranged missions during a one- 
hour period, laid down counterbattery 
fires, and then prepared to fire on call. 
Though ground observation was limited, 
the small artillery planes assured effec 
live support. Except in the 83d Divi- 
sion sector, where enemy shelling began 
immediately, German artillery remained 
silent for about two hours. As the 4th 
Armored Division helped by delivering 
supporting fires, the other divisions of 
the VIII Corps moved out. 8 



' VIII Corps FO 8, 15 Jul, and Annex 11 (Over- 
lay) , and G-3 Sec Memo. 18 Jul. 

9 Gen Bd Arly Rpt, App. C; VIII Corps AAR, 
Jul, and Amendment 1 to FO 8, 17 Jul; Arty Rpt, 
s6 Jul: 4th Armd Div C-3 Per Rpt 7, 24 Jul; 
Annex 4 (Any) to 8th Div FO 4, 16 Jul. 



Attacking with two regiments abreast, 
General Stroh's 8th Division met strong 
small arms and mortar fire at once. 
The zone of advance was thick with anti- 
tank and antipersonnel mine fields, and 
German tanks contested the attack. By 
sideslipping and outflanking, by em- 
ploying tanks and tank destroyers to 
enfilade hedgerow defenses, and by en- 
gaging enemy armor with bazookas and 
antitank grenades, the 28th Infantry, on 
the right (west), advanced more than a 
mile and by evening secured the high, 
wooded ground just north of the Lessay- 
Periers highway." 

The other assault regiment, the 121st 
Infantry, on the left (east), attacked 
along the axis of the main road to 
Periers. If the troops cleared the road 
for one mile, tanks could use a small 
bridge over the Seves River. The 
stream was only a dozen feet wide and 
easily fordable, but it ran through such 
flat, marshy ground that a tank-crossing 
seemed a dubious proposition except at 
the bridge. During the regimental at- 
tack, two infantry battalion command 
posts received direct enemy artillery hits. 
At the height of the crisis German tanks 
appeared. A tank platoon, called for- 
ward to challenge the German tanks, 
lost one Sherman to a mine and two 
others to the mud of a marshy bog. 
Blocked in their advance, unable to 
cross the river, and without observation 
of the battlefield, the remaining tanks 
were unable to help. Taking heavy 
casualties from small arms and mortar 
fire, the infantry fell back. 

The 90th Division meanwhile 
mounted a two-pronged attack designed 



"700th Tk Bn and 28th Inf AAR's. Jul: 8th Div 
C-S Jnl, 26 Jul. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



269 



to bypass and isolate the St. Germain 
area. On the right, a battalion of the 
359th Infantry crossed the Seves River 
in a rapid assault, traversed open, 
marshy ground, and overran a German 
trench dug along a fringe of woods. 
The momentum of the assault carried 
the battalion a hundred yards beyond 
the trench to a sunken road. As the 
soldiers climbed the road embankment 
to continue south, they met a burst of 
small arms and mortar fire. A German 
counterattack supported by tanks and 
artillery soon followed, driving the in- 
fantry out of the sunken road and back 
to the trench. There the battalion 
held. Bazooka fire, destroying one Ger- 
man tank, discouraged others from clos- 
ing in. In the rear, part of the 358th 
Infantry began a demonstration by fire 
to distract enemy attention, and the divi- 
sion artillery placed smoke shells ahead 
of the assault battalion of the 359th. 
Engineers attempted to construct a ford 
across the stream for supporting tanks, 
but German artillery and tank fire 
barred the only approach route to the 
stream and prevented not only tanks 
but also infantry reinforcements from 
coming forward. 

Four and a half miles to the east, the 
357th Infantry, comprising the left prong 
of the 90th Division attack, entered the 
Carentan— Periers isthmus and tried to 
advance toward the southwest to make 
eventual contact above Periers with the 
main body of the division on the right. 
At the same time, the 329th and 331st 
Regiments of the 83d Division attacked 
along the west bank of the Taute River 
toward the southwest. Although the 
three committed regiments had at least 
twice the strength of the enemy forces 
that opposed them— in troops, tanks, 



mortars, and artillery— and although the 
83d Division alone fired more than 300 
individual missions before noon, the 
committed regiments "didn't do a 
thing." They advanced no more than 
200 yards. The Germans fought re- 
sourcefully from entrenched positions 
along hedgerows and sunken roads, using 
their mortars and few available tanks 
effectively and keeping their limited 
artillery active all day. 10 

American intelligence officers had 
earlier considered that the Germans fac- 
ing the VIII Corps had two alternatives 
of equal plausibility. The Germans 
could, they judged, defend in place or 
make a strong pretense of defending 
while withdrawing to the high ground 
north of Coutances. 11 There seemed no 
question by the end of 26 July but that 
the Germans had chosen to take the 
former course of action. The VIII 
Corps had succeeded in making a small 
penetration to the Lessay-Periers high- 
way, but in so doing its divisions had 
incurred more than 1,150 casualties 
while capturing less than 100 prisoners. 
Yet General Middleton was satisfied. 
His troops appeared to be tying down 
the enemy and holding him in place for 
the VII Corps encirclement. 12 

During the early evening of 26 July, 
General Middleton instructed his sub- 
ordinate commanders to resume the at- 
tack the following morning. Several 
hours later, after receiving reports that 
the German opposition on other fronts 
seemed to be disintegrating and after 



10 Telecon, Middleton and Macon, 2100, 26 Jul, 
83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File; VIII Corps Arty 
Per Rpt, 26 Jul. 

11 VIII Corps G-2 Est 4, 15 Jul. 

12 Telecon, Middleton and Macon, 2100, 26 Jul, 
83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File. 



270 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



learning that General Collins had 
ordered the VII Corps to continue the 
attack during the night, Middleton 
alerted his commanders to possible Ger- 
man withdrawal. He told all units to 
patrol vigorously. If a withdrawal were 
discovered in any sector, the unit in that 
sector was to attack at daylight, 27 July, 
in close pursuit. 13 

Patrols all along the front found not 
only extensive mine fields but also evi- 
dence that appeared to indicate that the 
enemy lines were being maintained in 
place. Rain and haze during the early 
morning hours of 27 July obscured 
visibility and made further investigation 
fruitless. On the premise that the Ger- 
mans were still going to defend in 
strength, the units made careful, com- 
prehensive attack plans. 

Soon after the attack commenced, it 
became apparent that little more than a 
profusion of mine fields opposed the 
assault troops all across the corps front. 
Artillery preparations proved to have 
been a waste of ammunition. The 8th 
Division eliminated insignificant resist- 
ance and advanced more than a mile 
beyond the Lessay-Periers road. Two 
battalions of the 79th Division crossed 
the Ay River in single file, each man 
stepping carefully into the footsteps of 
the soldier ahead to avoid mines, and 
against slight harassing small arms fire 
took Lessay. Division engineers bridged 
the stream at the ford, and by the end 
of the day all three regiments were south 
of the river and abreast of the 8th Divi- 
sion. The 106th Cavalry Group crossed 
the Ay estuary that evening at low tide 



13 VIII Corps Fragmentary Orders, 1815 and 2050, 
26 Jul, VIII Corps G-3 Jnl; Msg, 2130, 26 Jul, 8th 
Div G-3 Jnl. 



and moved south to protect the coastal 
flank. The enemy had disengaged. 14 

In the 90th Division zone, after the 
enemy withdrawal was discovered, the 
division reconnaissance troop moved out 
ahead of the 359th Infantry in search of 
Germans. A destroyed Seves River 
bridge on the main road to Periers de- 
layed the advance until early afternoon 
and extensive mine fields on the roads 
slowed the leading troops by forcing 
them to proceed dismounted. By the 
middle of the afternoon, however, the 
reconnaissance unit was in the badly 
battered and deserted town of Periers. 15 

A mile south of Periers, on the high- 
way to St. Sauveur-Lendelin, when troop- 
ers encountered a roadblock defended 
by infantry and tanks, members of the 
359th Infantry, following the reconnais- 
sance troop, moved against the opposi- 
tion. Unable to bring antitank weapons 
and tank destroyers into range until 
evening because of mines, the regiment 
attacked shortly after nightfall, knocked 
out four German tanks, and then dug 
in for the night. 

On the Carentan-Periers isthmus, the 
357th Infantry had suspected an enemy 
withdrawal because German artillery 
had ceased early that morning, 27 July. 16 
When the troops attacked, they found 
only mines hampering their advance. 
Late that evening the regiment crossed 
the Taute River, overwhelmed German 
delaying positions just north of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway, and dug in along 
the highway for the night. The 358th 



14 79th Div AAR, Jul, FO 7, 19 Jul, and G-3 Jnl, 

26 Jul; Wyche Diary; VIII Corps G-2 Per Rpt 43, 

27 Jul. 

16 8th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1542, 27 Jul; VIII 
Corps Msg, 1415, 27 Jul, FUSA G—3 Jnl. 
16 375th Inf Jnl, 27 Jul. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



271 



Infantry, after sending patrols into the 
St. Germain area and finding that the 
Germans had withdrawn, moved south 
to the vicinity of the Periers-St. L6 
highway. 

The 83d Division also advanced 
against light resistance and encountered 
many mines. Early in the afternoon of 
27 July resistance vanished, and the 
division extended its control over the 
entire west bank of the Taute River in 
zone. Just before dark troops crossed 
the Taute and advanced almost a thou- 
sand yards into the Marchesieux and la 
Varde area. 17 

In possession of the Lessay— Periers 
highway by the end of 27 July, the VIII 
Corps had made a significant gain, but 
had captured hardly more than 100 
prisoners. The enemy had disengaged 
and moved behind a strong protective 
shell. Though small delaying forces 
and isolated pockets of resistance had 
hampered American pursuit, the biggest 
problem to the Americans had been 
mines— antitank and antipersonnel 
mines, Teller mines, Schu mines, mus- 
tard pot mines, box mines, and all types 
of booby traps rigged in buildings, 
hedgerows, ditches, fields, along the 
roads, and at road junctions and inter- 
sections. Behind this screen, the Ger- 
mans had escaped the Cobra pressure 
force. 18 

After engineers laid a treadway bridge 
across the Ay at Lessay, the VIII Corps 
continued to advance on 28 July. The 
absence of opposition prompted General 
Bradley to revoke the original objective 
line— the Geffosses-St. Sauveur-Lende- 



17 83d Div G-3 Per Rpt 31, 27 Jul, and G-2, 
G-3 Jnl, 27 Jul. 

18 VIII Corps G-2 Per Rpt 43, 27 Jul, and G-3 
Per Rpt 43, 28 Jul. 



lin-Marigny highway— and to permit the 
troops to proceed beyond it. 19 The 
79th and 8th Divisions met no resistance 
as they moved about ten and seven miles, 
respectively, to the vicinity of Coutances. 
The 90th and 83d Divisions proceeded 
to the proximity of the Coutances-St. 
L6 highway, where the 1st Division of 
the VII Corps lay athwart their zones 
of advance. The unopposed advance of 
the VIII Corps and the sense of victory 
that it engendered were somewhat 
empty achievements. The number of 
prisoners taken by all the divisions on 
28 July, for example, was little more 
than 200. 

Aided by the terrain, the weather, the 
darkness, the absence of Allied night 
fighter planes, and the extreme caution 
of American troops, who had come to 
respect the ability of the Germans to 
fight in the hedgerows, the German 
troops facing the VIII Corps had neatly 
slipped out of the trap set by Cobra. 
American commanders had begun to sus- 
pect an impending withdrawal and had 
noted evidence of it. Operations in the 
adjacent VII Corps sector had confirmed 
it. Plans had been changed to antici- 
pate it. 20 Yet despite precaution, warn- 
ing, and suspicion on the part of the 
Americans, the Germans gave them the 
slip. 

The Germans, on the other hand, 
though they had escaped the VIII Corps 
pressure force and had avoided entrap- 
ment by the first and second thrusts of 

16 VIII Corps Msg, 1515, 28 Jul; 83d Div G-2, 
G-3 Jnl, entry 1620, 28 Jul; ETOUSA Engr Hist 
Rpt 10, Combat Engineering, Aug 45, pp. 35, 36; 
Hosp Intervs, IV, GL-93 (317) ; XV Corps G-3 
Memo, Conf at G-3 Office, Hq Third U.S. Army, 
281600 Jul, 29 Jul, XV Corps G-3 Jnl and File. 

20 79th Div and VIII Corps AAR's Jul; Wyche 
Diary. 



272 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the VII Corps toward Coutances, were 
not yet safe. They still had to reckon 
with a third thrust by the VII Corps. 

COBRA Completed 

The 2d Armored Division, com- 
manded by General Brooks, had the 
mission of erecting a fence around Op- 
eration Cobra. With General Rose's 
CCA driving along the west bank of the 
Vire River toward the ultimate objec- 
tive of Tessy-sur-Vire and with the re- 
mainder of the division driving south- 
westward from Canisy toward Brehal, 
General Brooks was to set up a series of 
blocks along the Cerences-Tessy-sur- 
Vire line. 21 Although protective by 
motivation, the armored attack was ex- 
ploitive by nature. By traversing the 
comparatively large distances involved, 
the armored units would arrive in the 
rear of the German defenses, contribute 
to enemy disorganization, and shield the 
VII Corps main effort westward to 
Coutances. 

North of the Periers— St. L6 highway 
on 26 July and in position for commit- 
ment behind General Rose's CCA, CCB 
(Brig. Gen. Isaac D. White) was pre- 
pared to reinforce the CCA attack to 
the south or the 1st Division drive to 
Coutances. If neither action proved 
necessary, CCB was to execute its own 
planned role in Cobra by following 
CCA as far as Canisy and then turning 
to the southwest. With the aim of pro- 
tecting the Cobra operation against a 
possible German counterthrust from the 
south, CCB was to set up blocking posi- 
tions on the main road between Notre- 
Dame-de-Cenilly and Lengronne. 

21 2d Armd Div FO 3 (Rev 1) , 20 Jul, and 
Annex 3 to FO 3, 18 Jul. 



By the evening of 26 July, with the 
road to Canisy clear of CCA troops and 
Cobra giving cause for optimism, Gen- 
eral Brooks made ready to commit CCB 
on the morning of 27 July in its 
originally planned role. Because the 
road network between the Periers-St. 
L6 highway and Canisy needed exten- 
sive repairs, division engineers worked 
through the night and during the morn- 
ing to fill craters, remove wrecked vehi- 
cles, and construct bypasses. Shortly be- 
fore noon, 27 July, CCB crossed the 
Periers-St. L6 highway. Three hours 
later, after having ruthlessly barred other 
units from the roads assigned to him, 
General White had his leading units 
through Canisy and headed southwest. 22 

At that time General White received 
a change in mission: "Move at once," 
General Brooks, the division com- 
mander, ordered, "on Cerences and 
Brehal." The enemy forces facing the 
VIII Corps were withdrawing, and CCB 
was to cut off the withdrawal. 23 Instead 
of halting at Lengronne, at the Sienne 
River, in order to leave a coastal cor- 
ridor for an VIII Corps advance beyond 
Coutances, CCB was to drive all the way 
to the Cotentin west coast. General 
Bradley's original Cobra maneuver had 
thus been reinstated. The primary con- 
cern of CCB was no longer to prevent 
German reinforcement from the south; 
the combat command attack had become 
the main thrust of the VII Corps pincer 
movement westward. 24 Inheriting the 



22 2d Armd Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1735, 26 Jul, 
0859 and 1405, 27 Jul, and Msg, 0030, 27 Jul 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

23 2d Armd Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1454 and 1600, 
27 Jul. 

21 Ltr, Collins to Hechler, 13 Nov 45, quoted in 
Hechler, VII Corps in Opn Cobra, p. 188. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



273 



mission earlier held by the ist Division, 
General White was to speed his troops to 
the coast to intercept and trap the Ger- 
mans withdrawing toward the south. 
The altered mission involved no change 
in route but rather an extension of the 
drive as originally planned. Speed be- 
came even more important. The com- 
bat command was to race an opponent 
who had a head start. 

CCB was divided into two columns, 
but the absence of parallel roads made it 
necessary to advance the columns alter- 
nately. 23 The 82d Reconnaissance Bat- 
talion in the meantime sped forward 
ahead of the main body. Two miles 
southwest of Canisy, at Quibou, the 
reconnaissance troops struck an enemy 
roadblock. While they engaged the 
German force, the advance guard out- 
flanked the resistance. A battery of the 
78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 
traveling with the advance guard, took 
firing positions on the side of the road 
and opened fire on self-propelled guns 
and mortar emplacements half a mile 
distant. A flight of dive bombers per- 
forming armed-column cover struck an 
enemy-held ridge nearby. Before this 
smooth-working team, the German de- 
fense disintegrated. 

Once more on the highway, recon- 
naissance troops raced through the ham- 
let of Dangy, unaware that Bayerlein, the 
division commander of Panzer Lehr, 
was conducting a staff meeting in one of 
the houses. Overrunning isolated op- 
position, the fast-moving reconnaissance 
battalion quickly covered the four miles 
to Pont-Brocard, a village where the 

25 The following account is based on [Pillsbury], 
2d Armored Div in Opn Cobra, pp. 47-66; Hech- 
ler, VII Corps in Opn Cobra, pp. 187-216; 2d Armd 
Div AAR, Jul. 



highway crossed the Soulle River. 
Antitank and small arms fire from the 
village halted progress briefly, but the 
advance guard soon arrived, deployed, 
attacked, and seized Pont-Brocard. The 
advance continued. 

Two hours after midnight, 27 July, 
the combat command without difficulty 
secured Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly, a village 
seven miles southwest of Canisy. 

This swift advance during the after- 
noon and evening of 27 July illustrated 
more than anything else the penetration 
achieved by Cobra. There was nothing 
between the LXXXIV and // Parachute 
Corps to stop the American forces roll- 
ing through the Marigny-St. Gilles gap. 
Positions at Quibou had proved ineffec- 
tive and illusory. Soon after American 
tanks at Dangy unknowingly passed 
within a few yards of a joint command 
post of the 275th Division and Panzer 
Lehr, a shocked Bayerlein reported Pan- 
zer Lehr "finally annihilated." Units of 
the 275th Division had been out of con- 
tact with headquarters during the entire 
afternoon and by evening were con- 
sidered lost. Remnants of the Lehr and 
275th Divisions retired toward Pont- 
Brocard and Hambye, carrying with 
them miscellaneous troops in the area. 
Realizing the extent of the defeat, Bayer- 
lein placed the blame on higher head- 
quarters. "All calls for help have been 
ignored," he complained, "because no 
one [on the upper echelons] believed 
in the seriousness of the situation." 26 
This was hindsight, of course, but the 
serious situation was about to become 
worse. 



28 Bayerlein 's Est of the Situation, 2215, 27 Jul, 
AGp B Op. Befehle; see also Liddell Hart, The 
Rommel Papers, p. 490, and MS # A-g73 (Schmidt) . 



274 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



In place at Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly to 
begin its final drive to the Cotentin west 
coast, CCB of the 2d Armored Division 
received word of another change in mis- 
sion. To prevent overextension, CCB, 
instead of pushing all the way to the 
coast, was to move only as far as Len- 
gronne and set up blocking positions 
between that village and Notre-Dame- 
de-Cenilly. \{SeeMap VT} 

To carry out his blocking mission, 
General White sought to seize the critical 
traffic control points that lay southwest 
of Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly and also the 
bridges across the Sienne River, which 
bounded his zone of operations on the 
south and on the west. All the im- 
portant bridges across the Sienne were 
to have been destroyed by air bombard- 
ment before Cobra, but some had sur- 
vived intact. To make certain that 
none provided escape exits for German 
units, General White planned to outpost 
those west of Hambye and prepare them 
for demolition. 

Darting through surprised Germans 
manning hasty defensive positions, 
streaking past enemy antitank guns at 
50 miles an hour, CCB reconnaissance 
troops on 28 July secured more than the 
required number of bridges. With the 
exception of one at Gavray, held by a 
strong German force that defied the 
troopers, detachments took the Sienne 
bridges on the south and outposted the 
three bridges north of Cerences. Dis- 
persing the reconnaissance battalion to 
the limits of the combat command sector 
and beyond was a feat of daring in the 
best cavalry tradition. 

Though the rapid thrust had revealed 
the absence of serious German opposi- 
tion and had brought confusion and 



hopelessness to the few Germans en- 
countered, General White still could 
not be sure whether he had arrived too 
late to spring the trap. Concerned not 
only with blocking the bridges but also 
with obstructing the important cross- 
roads, he sent one of his main columns 
southwest from Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly. 
The troops mopped up isolated pockets 
of resistance— hastily assembled elements 
of the 353d Division that occupied block- 
ing positions between Notre-Dame-de- 
Cenilly and St. Denis-le-Gast— and 
detached small task forces to guard the 
significant road intersections. A recon- 
naissance troop outposted the final com- 
bat command objective, the Lengronne 
crossroads. A small task force (a com- 
pany each of tanks and infantry, rein- 
forced by engineers, medical personnel, 
and a tactical air control party) guarding 
the right flank was unable to halt several 
German tanks that crossed the front and 
moved south toward St. Denis-le-Gast 
and eventual escape, but it cut the Cout- 
ances-Gavray highway near Cambry, set 
up defensive positions, and waited for 
other German troops to appear. 

Germans had already put in an appear- 
ance early that morning of 28 July near 
Pont-Brocard. On the right of the ijth 
SS Panzer Grenadier Division, which 
had organized positions at Montpinchon 
and Cerisy-la-Salle, the regiment con- 
trolled by the 5th Parachute Division 
was to have anchored the right (south) 
flank of the north-south line established 
by Choltitz to mask his withdrawal on 
the Cotentin west coast. The para- 
chute regiment was nowhere in sight. 
In its place, a Panther battalion of the 
2d SS Panzer Division under the control 
of Panzer Lehr officers, small units of the 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



275 



275th Division, and assorted stragglers 
found themselves trying to re-form a 
front at Pont-Brocard, where Americans 
had passed the previous evening. 27 
Early on 28 July some of these German 
troops overran part of the 183d Field 
Artillery Battalion, a VII Corps Artillery 
unit supporting the 2d Armored Divi- 
sion from positions near Pont-Brocard. 
Fortunately, the Division Reserve (Col. 
Sidney R. Hinds) was on the road from 
Canisy, and it quickly restored Amer- 
ican control in the Pont-Brocard-Notre- 
Dame-de-Cenilly area. 

This and other evidence made it 
apparent on 28 July that a large German 
force was bottled up near Montpinchon 
and Roncey. CCB gradually turned its 
major attention to the north and north- 
west to contain it. The combat com- 
mand, then, had not, after all, arrived 
too late. 

On the German side, confusion in the 
LXXXIV Corps coastal sector on 28 July 
was appalling. Communications were 
virtually nonexistent. The corps head- 
quarters had some contact with some 
divisions but could not exercise effective 
control. The regiment of the 2d SS 
Panzer Division that was covering the 
withdrawal of the 91st Division had no 
knowledge of how the withdrawal was 
proceeding, and the 91st had no informa- 
tion about its covering force. Some 
withdrawing troops found to their dis- 
comfiture that the Americans that had 
crossed the Soulle River at Pont-Brocard 
were already behind them. Hausser 
was fired on by an American armored 
car near Gavray. Tychsen, the com- 
mander of the 2d SS Panzer Division, 



27 MS # A-984 (Mahlmann) . 



was killed close to his command post by 
an American patrol. 28 

Late in the afternoon of 28 July, 
when communications between the 
LXXXIV Corps and the 2d SS Panzer 
Division ceased, Col. Friedrich von 
Criegern, the corps chief of staff, went 
forward to make personal contact with 
the division. He found that Lt. Col. 
Otto Baum, the commander of the ijth 
SS Panzer Grenadier Division, had also 
assumed command of the 2d SS Panzer 
Division upon Tychsen's death. Baum 
and Criegern together concluded that 
American troops had probably already 
reached the Cotentin west coast and had 
thereby encircled the German forces still 
in the Coutances region. They agreed 
that an immediate withdrawal to the 
south was in order. They planned to 
gather all the troops they could find 
into an all-around defensive cordon, 
then make a strong attack southward to 
reach the ground below the Br^hal- 
Hambye road. While Baum busied 
himself with the preparations for this 
course of action, Criegern rushed back 
to inform Choltitz. 29 

Choltitz had just received an order 
from Hausser to break out of the Cout- 
ances region by attacking not to the 
south toward Brehal but to the southeast 
toward Percy. Hausser wanted to get 
those forces that broke out of the Amer- 
ican encirclement to join troops that 
Kluge was assembling east of the Vire 
River for a counterattack west of the 



28 Telecons, Pemsel and Tempelhoff, 0845, 28 
Jul, Helmdach and Tempelhoff, 1555, 28 Jul, and 
Hoehne and Zimmerman, 1030, 28 Jul, in AGp B 
KTB; MS # A-984 (Mahlmann); MS # B-839 
(Heydte) ; MS # P-195 (Wisliceny) . 

29 Choltitz, Soldat Unter Soldaten, p. 209; 17th 
SS Engr Bn KTB, 28 Jul; MS # P-139 (Stueckler) ; 
Sitrep, 29 Jul, in AGp B Tagesmeldungen. 



276 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Vire to seal off the Cobra penetration. 
A good meeting point for the two forces 
moving toward each other, Hausser 
figured, would be Percy. Choltitz pro- 
tested that an attack southeast from 
Coutances would leave only weak forces 
to anchor the entire Normandy front on 
the Cotentin west coast. But Hausser 
insisted, and Choltitz complied. He 
transmitted the order forward— the 
troops that were virtually encircled south 
of Coutances were to attack to the south- 
east, and not to withdraw to the south. 30 
Hausser of course notified Kluge of 
the instructions he had issued through 
Choltitz, and when Kluge learned that 
Hausser had virtually stripped his coastal 
positions and thereby jeopardized the 
entire Normandy defenses by inviting 
American encirclement of the German 
left flank, he nearly became violent. He 
told Hausser to send an officer courier 
to Choltitz at once to cancel the order 
for the southeastward attack to Percy. 
Instead, Choltitz was to mount a hold- 
ing attack to enable the main LXXXIV 
Corps body to escape south along the 
coast. The withdrawal was to be made 
under the protection of outposts that 
were to hold positions along the north- 
south railroad between Coutances and 
Cerences. Meanwhile, a counterattack, 
to be launched now by two fresh panzer 
divisions, would strike westward across 
the Vire toward Percy to act as a diver- 
sion for the withdrawal. Once south of 
Cerences, the LXXXIV Corps was to 
occupy a new ten-mile-long main line 
of resistance from Brehal through St. 
Denis-le-Gast to Gavray. 31 

30 Choltitz, Soldat Vnter Soldaten, p. 208; see MS 
# B-179 (Hausser) . 

31 Telecons, itluge and Hausser, 2000 and 2130, 
28 Jul, and Pemsel and Tempelhoff, 2000, 28 Jul, 



Kluge's instructions did not reach the 
LXXXIV Corps units. Unable to 
phone Choltitz, Hausser transmitted a 
message to the corps rear command post. 
There, the corps quartermaster took a 
bicycle and rode forward to give the 
message to Choltitz. He arrived about 
midnight of 28 July. Without com- 
munications to subordinate units and 
therefore lacking control of their opera- 
tions, Choltitz did nothing. Satisfied 
that the units under the control of the 
91st Division were withdrawing south 
along the coast, he allowed the rest of 
the situation to develop as it would. 
The corps headquarters moved to the 
south and escaped intact. Meanwhile, 
the other units along the coast prepared 
to attack southeast in compliance with 
Hausser's original order. The effect 
would be to storm the blocking positions 
that the 2d Armored Division had 
stretched across the Cotentin. 

The American commanders, Generals 
Brooks and White, guessing that the 
Germans would try to break out during 
the night of 28 July, called in their dis- 
persed and exposed detachments late in 
the afternoon. Reinforced by the Divi- 
sion Reserve and by an infantry battal- 
ion of the 4th Division that came into 
Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly that evening, the 
armored troops took strong defensive 
positions along a seven-mile line be- 
tween Pont-Brocard and St. Denis-le- 
Gast, alert to the possibility that the 
Germans might try to break out from 
the Montpinchon-Roncey area to safety. 

Meanwhile, Hausser's original order 
transmitted by Choltitz had brought dis- 



AGp B KTB; see MS # B-179 (Hausser) for a 
candid account of the command confusion and the 
conflicting orders. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



277 



may to Baum. Baum had been pro- 
ceeding on the assumption (made by 
him and Criegern) that he could easily 
get the two divisions under his control— 
the 2d SS Panzer and the iyth SS Panzer 
Grenadier— to safety by way of a south- 
ern exit. He had become even more 
confident when he learned that the 2d 
Armored Division had pulled in its 
troops to St. Denis-le-Gast, thereby leav- 
ing open a ten-mile-wide corridor be- 
tween that village and the coast. Further- 
more, Baum had already pulled his units 
back from the eastern edge of the pocket, 
and he no longer had a firm hold on the 
area northwest of Notre-Dame-de- 
Cenilly. Without that sector as an as- 
sembly area, he could not launch an 
attack to the southeast through Notre- 
Dame-de-Cenilly to Percy. Baum com- 
promised. He withdrew southward 
across the Sienne River, then turned 
eastward to Percy and thereby achieved 
the desired result by different means. 

The other German troops north 
of Cerences that were covering the 
LXXXIV Corps withdrawal drifted 
south in the meantime and gathered 
near Roncey to attempt to break out to 
the southeast. The main components 
of this force that could be identified in- 
cluded parts of the 2d SS Panzer Divi- 
sion and the ijth SS Engineer Battalion, 
most of the 6th Parachute Regiment, 
and what remained of the 17th SS Pan- 
zer Grenadier Division. By striking to- 
ward Hambye and Percy, these and other 
troops were to demonstrate that the 
defensive efforts on the part of the 2d 
Armored Division had not been wasted. 

Shortly before dawn, 29 July, about 
thirty enemy tanks and vehicles, led by 
an 88-mm. self-propelled gun, ap- 



proached a crossroads about three miles 
southwest of Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly, 
where a company of armored infantry 
and a company of tanks were deployed. 
German infantrymen crawled along the 
ditches on both sides of the road as half 
a dozen enemy tanks and armored 
vehicles assaulted frontally to force open 
an escape route. The self-propelled gun 
in the lead overran the American defen- 
sive line and was about to make a break- 
through when rifle shots killed the driver 
and gunner. With the gun carriage 
blocking the road, individual American 
and German soldiers battled for the 
crossroads until daybreak, when the Ger- 
mans withdrew, leaving 17 dead and 150 
wounded. The motor of the un- 
damaged self-propelled gun carriage was 
still running, the gun still loaded. The 
Americans sustained less than 50 casual- 
ties and lost a tank and a half-track. 32 

About the same time, not far away, 
about fifteen German tanks and several 
hundred troops overran an outpost 
manned by a company of the recently 
arrived battalion of the 4th Division. 
The American company commander 
was killed at once and the infantrymen 
fell back half a mile into the positions of 
the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battal- 
ion. Two artillery batteries in direct 
fire, a third in indirect fire, and four 
guns of the 702d Tank Destroyer Battal- 
ion held off the Germans for thirty 
minutes until nearby armored infantry- 
men arrived to re-establish the outpost 
line. They found seven destroyed Mark 
IV tanks and counted more than 125 
enemy dead. Some Germans had 

82 S. Sgt. James J. Cermak of the 41st Armored 
Infantry Regiment was awarded the DSC for 
heroism. 



278 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Wrecked German Armor Bulldozed Off a Road Near Roncey 



escaped in these two actions. Others 
escaped by filtering through American 
lines in small groups. In general, how- 
ever, the CCB cordon proved effective. 
Troops all along the line had collected 
enemy stragglers and demoralized rem- 
nants of small German units. 

Quite certain that Allied fighter- 
bombers would prevent a German escape 
in strength during daylight, General 
White again pushed his defensive line to 
Lengronne on the morning of 29 July. 
He re-established the roadblocks at inter- 
sections and sent outposts to the Sienne 
River bridges. General Brooks moved 
the Division Reserve to St. Denis-le-Gast 
to keep an eye on German movements 
south of the Sienne River. Though the 



Germans maintained their control over 
the bridge at Gavray, elsewhere only 
small enemy groups offered half-hearted 
resistance. 

German hopes for an eventual con- 
certed breakout attempt were largely 
destroyed on 29 July by Allied tactical 
aircraft. The destruction that occurred 
went far beyond Allied anticipation. 
On the afternoon of 29 July pilots of the 
IX Tactical Air Command discovered 
a "fighter- bomber's paradise" in the 
Roncey area— a mass of German traffic, 
stationary, bumper to bumper, and 
"triple banked." Pilots estimated at 
least 500 vehicles jammed around Ron- 
cey, and for six hours that afternoon the 
planes attacked what became known as 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



279 



the Roncey pocket. As squadrons of 
fighter-bombers rotated over the target, 
American artillery, tanks, and tank de- 
stroyers pumped shells into the melange. 
More than 100 tanks and over 250 
vehicles were later found in various 
stages of wreckage, other vehicles had 
been abandoned intact. Though Amer- 
ican intelligence officers guessed that a 
fuel shortage had caused the Germans to 
abandon their equipment, the fact was 
that the Germans had fled on foot in 
the hope of escaping the devastating fire 
rained down upon them. 33 

By the evening of 29 July, the 2d 
Armored Division (less CCA) was the 
only unit still actively engaged in Opera- 
tion Cobra. General Bradley had in- 
itiated a new attack but the mission of 
eradicating the isolated German forces 
trapped in the Cotentin remained with 
General Brooks. His method was to 
erect a cage and let the Germans beat 
against the bars. The armored division 
was to hold its defensive lines and de- 
stroy the survivors of the Roncey disaster 
who surely would again attempt to escape 
during the night of 29 July. 

As expected, German groups struck 
the armored defensive line at various 
points during the night. Some fought 
desperately to break through, others 
battled half-heartedly, still others sur- 
rendered after a cursory exploration 
that satisfied the requirements of honor. 
In the last category belonged the 150 
Germans who stumbled into the bivouac 
area of the 62d Armored Field Artillery 
Battalion near Lengronne and gave 
themselves up after a short engagement. 



33 AAF 111, 242; VII Corps AAR, Jul; First U.S. 
Army, Report of Operations, I, 107; FUSA G-2 
Per Rpt 50, 30 Jul. 



At least two skirmishes reached the 
proportion of minor battles. The first 
occurred shortly before midnight, 29 
July. As German forces launched a 
demonstration and a diversionary attack 
from the vicinity of Gavray with rockets 
and flares and with a small infantry- 
tank task force that engaged American 
outposts near St. Denis-le-Gast, two 
columns descended from the Roncey 
pocket and smashed against St. Denis-le- 
Gast from the north. About a thou- 
sand men and nearly a hundred armored 
vehicles in a well-organized attack pene- 
trated the American line. A Mark V 
poked its gun through a hedgerow, 
destroyed the command half-track of a 
U.S. tank battalion, and set vehicles at 
the command post ablaze. Disorgan- 
ized, the Americans fell back, relinquish- 
ing St. Denis-le-Gast. Had the Ger- 
mans been interested in exploiting their 
success, they might have thoroughly dis- 
rupted the defensive cordon. Instead, 
they wanted only to flee south. Once 
the spearhead had pierced the Amer- 
ican lines, it was every man for himself. 
The U.S. troops rallied, and an intense, 
confused battle took place at close 
range. 34 In the morning the Americans 
again had a firm hold on St. Denis-le- 
Gast and its road intersection. They 
had killed 130 Germans, wounded 124, 
taken over 500 prisoners, and destroyed 
at least 25 vehicles, of which 7 were 
tanks. American losses were almost 100 
men and 12 vehicles. 

Eleven vehicles of the German force 



84 Lt. Col. Wilson D. Coleman of the 41st Ar- 
mored Infantry, who was killed while rallying his 
troops, and S. Sgt. William B. Kolosky of the Di- 
vision Reserve headquarters, who organized and 
led a group of heterogeneous headquarters person- 
nel in a defensive position, were awarded the DSC. 



280 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



that had attacked St. Denis-le-Gast got 
through the village, but instead of driv- 
ing south they moved westward toward 
Lengronne, toward the bivouac of the 
78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. 
Earlier that night U.S. artillerymen 
manning guard posts around their how- 
itzers had killed or captured individual 
soldiers and small groups of men, but 
the small German column entered the 
American lines undetected. Moving 
rapidly, the column passed an antitank 
gun guarding the road. Perhaps the 
sentries assumed that the vehicles were 
American, perhaps they were too startled 
to open fire. Well inside the artillery 
bivouac area, an American officer 
stopped the column and challenged the 
driver of the lead truck. "Was ist?" 
came the surprised and surprising reply. 
Mutual astonishment quickly vanished 
and the battle commenced. Machine 
guns chattered. Howitzers at point- 
blank range, some from distances of less 
than a hundred yards, opened fire. A 
tank destroyer crew at the side of the 
road making emergency motor repairs 
began to fire 3-inch shells into the rear 
of the German column. With the lead- 
ing and rear vehicles of the column de- 
stroyed, the Germans tried to flee on 
foot. Silhouetted by the flames of burn- 
ing vehicles, they made excellent targets 
for the small arms of the artillerymen. 
The battle was short. In the morning, 
the artillerymen counted 90 enemy 
dead, over 200 prisoners, and all 1 1 
vehicles destroyed. The Americans had 
lost 5 killed and 6 wounded. 35 



35 Among those killed was Capt. Naubert O. Si- 
mard, Jr., who manned an exposed machine gun 
though he knew that to do so was certain death. 
Captain Simard was posthumously awarded the 
DSC. 



At the same time the small task force 
that had established an outpost on the 
Coutances— Gavray road near Cambry 
finally saw action after two days of 
patient waiting. Shortly after mid- 
night, 29 July, about 2,500 Germans 
made an organized break for safety. 
The point of the German attack overran 
a tank roadblock and threatened to 
crush the entire outpost force. Sgt. 
Hulon B. Whittington, of the 41st 
Armored Infantry, jumped on an Amer- 
ican tank, shouted through the turret 
to direct its crew, and maneuvered it 
through enemy bullets to a place where 
its point-blank fire destroyed the 
momentum of the German attack. 36 

Its attack stalled, the German force 
fell apart. Some panic-stricken Ger- 
mans fled or surrendered, others battled 
at close range near burning vehicles. 
U.S. artillery battalions gave excellent 
supporting fires without prior registra- 
tion and without clearance from the divi- 
sion artillery. As a result of the six- 
hour engagement, 450 Germans were 
killed, 1,000 taken prisoner, and about 
100 vehicles of all types destroyed. 
American losses were about 50 killed 
and 60 wounded. 

As day broke on 30 July, hundreds of 
destroyed vehicles and wagons, innumer- 
able dead horses, and the miscellaneous 
wreckage of defeat lay scattered over the 
countryside, grim testimony to the ex- 
tent of the debacle that the Germans 
had suffered in the Cotentin. The 2d 
Armored Division alone had killed an 
estimated 1,500 enemy and captured 
about 4,000, while losing not quite 100 
dead and less than 300 wounded. CCB, 



Sgt. Whittington received the Medal of Honor. 



THE BREAKTHROUGH DEVELOPED 



281 



General Collins felt, had done "a mag- 
nificent job." 37 

The fact that the action was over by 
30 July became apparent as recon- 
naissance troops combing the region 
rounded up 250 prisoners and killed 
nearly 100 other Germans still trying to 
escape. Shortly before noon, a group 
of 100 enemy soldiers walked into a 
command post of the armored division 
and surrendered. 

Thus ended Operation Cobra on the 
Cotentin west coast in a final action not 
unlike the last twitch of a lifeless snake. 
Even as Cobra was expiring, the battle 
was passing beyond the limits contem- 
plated for the action. With the Ger- 
mans reduced to impotence, the offen- 
sive was becoming quite different from 
the original conception. 

Despite German losses in the Coten- 
tin, a rather large force escaped in the 
confusion. Among the units that fought 
or fled to safety were a battalion of Mark 
IV tanks of the 2d SS Panzer Division, 
and sizable contingents of the iyth SS 
Engineer Battalion, the 6th Parachute 
Regiment, and the iyth SS Panzer Gren- 
adier Division. Many individual sol- 
diers had also reached refuge. Quite a 
few who had abandoned their vehicles 
in the congested mass of traffic around 
Roncey and left them to Allied air force 
bombardment organized themselves in- 
to haphazard command groups, some 
effective, some not, and made their way 
south. Though a sufficient number of 
troops gathered to man a line from 

87 Ltr, Collins to Hechler, quoted in Hechler, 
VII Corps in Opn Cobra, p. 216; [Pillsbury], 2d 
Armored Div in Opn Cobra, p. 85; VII Corps AAR, 
Jul. 



Percy westward to the sea, the difficulty 
was that the men were exhausted. As 
they attempted to establish a defense they 
fumbled about in various stages of wake- 
fulness. One unit commander, von der 
Heydte, brought his 6th Parachute Regi- 
ment into a concealed bivouac and there, 
hidden from Americans and Germans 
alike, permitted his men to sleep for 
twenty-four hours before reporting his 
location to higher headquarters. 38 

From Gavray west to the sea the front 
was held largely by remnants gathered 
under the banner of the gist Division. 
Although these forces had had a rela- 
tively easy time in withdrawing south 
along the coast, they had nevertheless 
been bombed and strafed and had lost 
troops, equipment, and supplies. Un- 
able to form a continuous, strong, or 
stable line of defense, they were destined 
to be overrun in the midafternoon of 
30 July. 

Learning that little existed to oppose 
an American sweep down the Cotentin 
west coast, the German naval coast artil- 
lery battery in Granville destroyed its 
guns and retreated toward Avranches. 
By nightfall, 30 July, headquarters of 
the LXXXIV Corps and the advance 
command post of the Seventh Army were 
behind American lines. The only con- 
tact that Army Group B had with the 
combat troops along the Cotentin west 
coast was that maintained by the crew of 
a telephone relay station in Avranches, 
at the base of the Cotentin. Just before 
dark on 30 July, the signal crew reported 
the approach of U.S. troops. 39 



38 MS # P-159 (Heydte) . 
""AGp B KTB, 30 Jul. 



CHAPTER XV 

Exploiting the Breach 



Strictly considered, Operation Cobra 
lasted only three days. By evening of 
27 July, the situation had so evolved that 
General Bradley could conclude that a 
successful penetration of the enemy 
defenses had been achieved. He con- 
sequently issued oral instructions that 
were embodied in a field order distrib- 
uted on the following day. 1 While the 
2d Armored Division (less CCA) com- 
pleted its Cobra mission in action that 
continued through 30 July, the other 
units of the First Army carried out the 
new orders to exploit the Cobra results. 

The forces east of the Vire River that 
were to have assignments in the exploita- 
tion had performed a subsidiary role in 
Cobra. Their activity, essentially an 
act of diversion, had influenced General 
Bradley's decision on how to direct the 
offensive growing out of the Cobra 
breakthrough. 

The COBRA Diversion 

The diversion east of the Vire River 
was predicated upon a desire to pin 
down enemy troops and prevent their 
dispatch westward across the river against 
the main forces in Operation Cobra. 
Exactly how this was to be accomplished 
General Bradley had left rather vague 



while awaiting developments in the 
main attack. Thus the commanders of 
the two corps east of the Vire, Generals 
Corlett and Gerow, had to plan their 
operations on the basis of several con- 
tingencies and in the face of a number 
of question marks. 

General Corlett was to be prepared 
either to displace his XIX Corps to the 
west bank of the Vire and assume a por- 
tion of the VII Corps zone for a drive 
south or to remain east of the Vire for 
a drive south along that side of the 
river. Until Bradley decided which 
move was to be made, the XIX Corps 
was to give fire support to the VII 
Corps. 2 

The future of General Gerow's V 
Corps was even less definite. Though V 
Corps was to attack on 26 July, General 
Bradley had designated no objectives. 
Nor could General Gerow count on a 
firm commitment from the forces on his 
flanks. If XIX Corps, on his right, dis- 
placed to a new zone west of the Vire, 
Gerow would have to extend his respon- 
sibility westward to the river. If the 
British, who were to his left and whose 
intentions were uncertain, did not 
advance, V Corps, by attacking, might 
expose its own left flank. USee Map V .) 



The V Corps front formed a curved 
line about fifteen miles long, with the 



X FUSA FO 2, 28 Jul; see FUSA Msg, 1100, 28 
Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl. 



1 XIX Corps Ltr of Instr 3, 20 Jul. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



283 



right flank on Hill 192, the center at 
Berigny, and the left near Caumont. 
Early V Corps planning for Cobra had 
projected an advance of about ten miles 
across the entire front, but in final plan- 
ning General Gerow directed instead a 
limited objective attack. Designed to 
move the corps forward about three 
miles, the attack was to tie down Ger- 
mans east of the Vire; retain a measure 
of flexibility necessary for adjusting to 
the developing Cobra operation; and 
eliminate a German salient between St. 
L6 and Caumont that threatened Amer- 
ican possession of St. L6, denied desir- 
able lateral routes of communications 
(particularly the St. L6-Caumont high- 
way), and lengthened the V Corps front. 3 
In the bocage east of the Vire River, 
irregular hills coveted by hedgerowed 
fields formed broken ridge lines and 
raised barriers against an advance toward 
the south. In this terrain south of the 
St. L6-Berigny highway and west of the 
Berigny— Caumont road, the Germans 
had excellent defensive positions on 
commanding ground. On the first ridge 
south of St. L6— commonly called Hill 
101— the Germans had kept XIX Corps 
from moving beyond St. L6; in fact a 
strong counterreconnaissance screen had 
denied accurate knowledge of German 
strength and dispositions. On the sec- 
ond ridge— higher ground between the 
villages of Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire and St. 



3 V Corps FO's 12 and 13, 16 and 21 Jul; V Corps 
Operations in the ETO, pp. 113ft"; see S. Sgt. Jose 
M. Topete, Maj. Franklin Ferriss, and Lt. Hollis 
Alpert, Operations of V Corps, 26 July-15 August 
(hereafter cited Topete et al., Opns of V Corps) , 
a preliminary MS, Hist Div, USFET, 1946, OCMH 
Files. 



Jean-des-Baisants— the enemy had excel- 
lent observation and supplementary 
defensive positions. 

The goal of General Gerow's limited 
objective attack was the St. Jean-des- 
Baisants ridge. Its capture would 
threaten to encircle the Germans on Hill 
101 and thereby remove an obstacle 
hampering the XIX Corps. Once in 
possession of the St. Jean-des-Baisants 
ridge, General Gerow could either con- 
tinue his attack to the south or take 
advantage of the terrain compartment 
and move southwest along the ridge line 
to Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire and the Vire 
River. The latter maneuver would en- 
circle the Germans on Hill 101. 

General Gerow wanted to drive down 
the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The 
maneuver he hoped to execute resem- 
bled, in miniature, the main Cobra 
operation west of the Vire. In the same 
way that the VII Corps veered to the 
Cotentin west coast, the V Corps would 
attack southwestward to the Vire River. 
Like the VIII Corps, the XIX Corps 
would act as a holding force. In the 
same manner that a successful VII Corps 
envelopment might block subsequent 
VIII Corps progress along the west coast 
of the Cotentin, a V Corps drive to the 
Vire would obstruct an immediate XIX 
Corps advance. If Cobra west of the 
Vire made possible an exploitation along 
the west bank of the Vire, the V Corps 
envelopment to the Vire would pinch 
out the XIX Corps and permit its dis- 
placement to make the main exploita- 
tion. The logic appeared unimpeach- 
able, the opportunity tempting. The 
boundary between the XIX and the V 
Corps, tentatively drawn, ran southwest 
to the Vire River, indicating that the 



284 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



XIX Corps was to be pinched out near 
Ste. Suzanne-sur-Vire. 4 

General Gerow controlled two infan- 
try divisions. On the right he had an 
experienced division, the 2d, under Gen- 
eral Robertson. The 5th Division on 
the left, commanded by Maj. Gen. S. 
LeRoy Irwin, had recently arrived in 
Normandy and had freed the 1st Divi- 
sion for the main Cobra attack. 
Together, the divisions on the V Corps 
front easily outnumbered the Germans 
they faced. Twenty battalions of artil- 
lery were in support, and two tank de- 
stroyer battalions were tied in with the 
corps fire direction center. The relative 
inactivity of the V Corps before the start 
of Cobra had enabled adequate stock- 
piling of ammunition. 5 

Several days before Cobra, in com- 
pliance with arrangements made by 
Generals Montgomery and Bradley, the 
boundary separating the V Corps and the 
Second British Army was moved to the 
west, giving the British responsibility 
for Caumont and reducing the 5th Divi- 
sion zone to regimental frontage. Gen- 
eral Gerow planned to attack with the 
four regiments already on line, the three 
of the 2d Division and one of the 5th. 
Because the corps zone was divided into 
almost equal sectors by wooded and 
swampy lowland that separated the in- 
terior regiments, Gerow projected two 
simultaneous two-regiment efforts that 
would converge on the St. Jean-des- 



4 V Corps AAR, Jul, Ltr of Instrs to the 5th Div, 
24 Jul, FO 13, 21 Jul, Ltr of Instrs supplementing 
FO 12, 24 Jul, and G-3 Situation Map, 2030, 25 
Jul; Memo, Maj Gen S. LeRoy Irwin to Gen 
Gerow, 23 Jul, V Corps G-3 Jnl. 

5 FUSA Ltr, Relief of 1st Div by 5 th Inf Div, 
11 Jul, and Msgs, FUSA G-3 Jnl, l2 -i4 Jul; V 
Corps History, p. 124; Gen Bd Arty Rpt, App. C; 
V Corps Ord Sec Rpt, V Corps AAR, Jul. 



Baisants ridge. He expected to be in 
possession of the crest of the ridge in two 
days, after which he planned to send 
the 5th Division southwest to the Vire 
River, to St. Suzanne-sur-Vire. 6 

Shortly after dawn on 26 July, 192 
American and 44 British guns fired a 
twenty-minute artillery preparation to 
open the attack east of the Vire River. 
This was the precursor of a heavy artil- 
lery effort that by the end of the first 
day was to consume half the ammuni- 
tion allocated to the V Corps for a five- 
day period. 7 

Concerned that two weeks of relative 
inactivity in this sector had enabled the 
enemy to prepare extensive defensive 
positions in considerable depth, the 2d 
Division commander, General Robert- 
son, had developed novel tactics for his 
attack. Tanks equipped with hedge- 
cutters and protected by time-fuzed 
artillery fire advanced buttoned up and 
without infantry support for several 
hundred yards to breach a few hedge- 
rows in depth across the front. Achiev- 
ing surprise and taking no losses from 
enemy fire, the tankers returned after 
twenty minutes to the line of departure 
to pick up infantry support. Together 
the tanks and infantry moved quickly 
through the gaps in the hedgerows be- 
fore the Germans could re-establish their 
positions. 8 

With the help of these tactics, two of 
the 2d Division's three regiments made 



6 Observations of the Div Comdr During Jul, 
2d Div AAR, Jul; 2d Div FO 6, 19 Jul; 5th Div FO 
2, 17 Jul, and FO 3, 22 Jul; V Corps Ltr of Instrs 
to 5th Dry, 24 Jul. 

7 V Corps History, p. 121; Gen Bd Arty Rpt, 
App. C; V Corps Ord Sec Rpt, V Corps AAR, Jul. 

8 9th Inf AAR, Jul; Observations of the Div 
Comdr During Jul, 2d Div AAR, Jul; 741st Tk Bn 
AAR, Jul. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



285 



notable advances. On the division left, 
the gth Infantry used twenty-five .50- 
caliber machine guns previously em- 
placed on high ground to deliver flank- 
ing fire across the regimental front and 
advanced steadily for almost two miles. 
Against artillery, mortar, and slight 
small-arms fire, the regiment nearly 
reached the St. L6-Caumont highway. 
Comprising one half of the corps right 
flank pincer force, the 23d Infantry 
gained almost a mile and reached a 
lateral country road. There, German 
artillery and high-velocity weapons 
placed flanking fire on the road and 
prevented a crossing in strength. The 
fire also made it difficult to evacuate 
casualties and bring up supplies. On 
the division right, where the 38th In- 
fantry composed the other half of the 
pincer force, a comparable advance was 
made except on the extreme right. 
Stanch resistance and an increasingly ex- 
posed right flank forced a halt. 9 

Employing artillery fire to good 
advantage, the only regiment of the 5th 
Division to attack, the 2d Infantry, also 
made a quick initial gain of about a 
thousand yards. It was making a flank- 
ing approach to the St. Jean-des-Baisants 
ridge when intense and accurate Ger- 
man fire caused considerable disorganiza- 
tion. Nevertheless, by committing all 
three battalions judiciously, the regi- 
mental commander, Col. A. Worrell 
Roffe, was able to keep the attack going 



S. Sgt. Edward V. Maloney of the 38th Cavalry 
Reconnaissance Squadron, who though mortally 
wounded continued to fire the guns of his tank to 
cover the defensive preparations of his unit, was 
posthumously awarded the DSC. Pfc. Clifford L. 
Curry of the same unit walked through fire on 
the battlefield to rescue a wounded soldier. All 
fire "ceased in salute" as he carried the wounded 
man back to safety. He was awarded the DSC. 



another 1,500 yards. Cutting the St. 
L6-Caumont highway, the regiment 
made a total advance of two miles. 10 

By the end of the first day, the units of 
the V Corps had taken about 300 
prisoners and advanced half way to the 
St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The drive 
cost nearly a thousand casualties, chiefly 
from artillery fire. 11 The assault troops 
had broken through the crust of the 
German defenses, though they had been 
unable to exploit local penetrations be- 
cause of the terrain, the wide frontages, 
and, in the case of the 2d Infantry Regi- 
ment, a certain amount of disorganiza- 
tion within the battalions. 12 The V 
Corps clearly appeared to be accomplish- 
ing its main mission of containing some 
of the German forces and preventing 
them from bringing their strength to 
bear on the main development of Cobra 
west of the Vire River. 

Resuming the attack on 27 July, V 
Corps advanced but did not reach its 
objective. The two regiments of the 
2d Division, comprising the right arm 
of the corps pincer movement, gained 
about a thousand yards against resist- 
ance that was appreciably less deter- 



10 The intensity of the combat may be judged 
from the fact that five soldiers of the 5th Division 
were awarded the DSC, two posthumously: Pfc. 
Milo J. Flynn, Pfc. Amijan O. Lazar, Pvt. Jack Gill, 
S. Sgt. Richard F. Heinzelman, and T. Sgt. Lloyd 
N. Peterson. 

11 V Corps G—2 Per Rpts, 26 and 27 Jul. Losses 
for the 2d Infantry were officially placed at 147, 
a low figure produced in compliance with a First 
Army order that estimates of men missing in action 
were to be "no higher than absolutely necessary." 
(5th Div G—i Jnl, 26 Jul.) To equate its reported 
figures and its actual losses, the division reported 
higher losses during the succeeding days. General 
Irwin, Personal Diary; see also Topete et al., Opns 
of V Corps, p. 25. 

12 Observations of the Div Comdr During Jul, 
2d Div AAR, Jul; Comments, 5th Div AAR, Jul. 



286 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



mined than on 26 July. The regiments 
on the left were hampered by continu- 
ing disorganization and nervousness 
among 5th Division units, still new in 
battle. Neither regiment advanced. At 
the end of the day, V Corps was still 
more than a mile short of the crest of 
the St. Jean-des-Baisants ridge. The 
real achievement was the contact made 
by the two interior regiments on 
the corps front. After bypassing the 
wooded swampy lowland that separated 
them, the regiments had turned inward 
and eliminated what had been the 
Berigny salient. 13 

Denied the ridge he wanted, General 
Gerow changed his plans around mid- 
day, 27 July. Dividing the corps zone 
equally between the 2d and 5th Divi- 
sions, he alerted both to the possibility 
that either or both might be designated 
to make the attack southwestward to 
the Vire. 14 The reapportionment of 
frontage acknowledged the strong resist- 
ance in terrain favorable for defense. It 
also was a precautionary measure pred- 
icated upon readying the corps to 
absorb another division, the 35th. 

A possibility that the 35th Division 
soon might pass to V Corps had become 
strong on the morning of 27 July when 
indications developed that the XIX 
Corps might displace west of the Vire 
River. Since the 35 th was the only 
division of XIX Corps actually in the 
line, it might be left behind when the 
corps moved. 

Earlier, the XIX Corps had executed 
its Cobra mission by placing strong artil- 
lery fire on the ridges south of St. L6. 

13 2d Div G-3 Jnl, 27 Jul, and G-3 Per Rpt, 27 
Jul; V Corps G-2 Per Rpt, 27 Jul. 

11 V Corps FO 14, 27 Jul; Gerow Memo, 27 Jul, 
V Corps G-3 Jnl. 



On 27 July the commander of the 35th 
Division, General Baade, came to the 
conclusion that the Germans were with- 
drawing primarily because of American 
gains west of the Vire. Deciding that 
an advance was in order, Baade secured 
the corps commander's permission to 
attack during the afternoon to secure 
Hill 101, the ridge immediately south 
of St. L6. As events developed, the 
attack was well timed. The Germans 
had begun to withdraw during the 
morning, and the 35th Division took 
Hill 101 against no more than light 
resistance. Several Vire River bridge 
sites southwest of St. L6 fell in the 
process. 15 

On the evening of 27 July, a tele- 
phone call from First Army headquar- 
ters to General Corlett acknowledged the 
changing situation brought about by 
Cobra. General Bradley had decided 
to displace the XIX Corps west of the 
Vire River. As Gerow had anticipated, 
Bradley attached the 35th Division to 
the V Corps and extended Gerow's 
responsibility westward to the Vire. 

Cobra had ended, and a new opera- 
tion was about to begin. 

The Post-COBRA Plan 

In the Cobra plan, General Bradley 
had not tried to forecast how the opera- 
tion might end. Instead, he was pre- 
pared to choose his course of action from 
the actual Cobra results. He could halt 
the offensive and consolidate his forces 
or continue his attack to exploit a break- 
through. By the evening of 27 July it 



15 35th Div AAR, Jul, FO 8, 27 Jul, G-3 Jnl, 27 
Jul, G-3 Per Rpt, 27 Jul; XIX Corps Ltr of Instr 
3, 20 Jul. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



287 



was apparent that the success of Cobra 
warranted a continuation of the attack, 
and Bradley decided to exploit his gains 
and broaden and extend his effort. 

Specifically, the enemy withdrawal 
along the west coast of the Cotentin on 
27 July— later judged the decisive con- 
sequence of Cobra— seemed to offer an 
opportunity to hasten the withdrawal 
and turn it into a rout. 16 The fact that 
the opposition east of Coutances was so 
strong appeared particularly significant— 
the forces there were obviously trying 
"to hold open the door of retreat for 
the LXXXIV Corps." Even the Luft- 
waffe put in an appearance— a total of 
thirty planes made eight daylight and 
sixteen night raids. 17 The Germans 
had realized the danger of becoming 
isolated on the Cotentin west coast and 
had attempted to escape encirclement 
by withdrawing. "To say that . . . [we 
are] riding high tonight is putting it 
mildly," General Bradley wrote General 
Eisenhower. "Things on our front 
really look good." 18 

As judged by American intelligence 
officers— whose gratification over the 
Cobra results led to some optimistic ex- 
aggeration—the Germans in the Coten- 
tin were in flight by 27 July. The only 
hope the Germans could have of stem- 
ming their retreat was to gain refuge be- 
hind the See River at Avranches. The 
"bits and pieces," the "shattered rem- 
nants," and the "battered portions" of 
the units in the Cotentin were hardly 
in shape to make a stand unless fresh 
troops came forward to reinforce them, 
and no fresh troops seemed available. 

16 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 102. 
" FUSA G-2 Per Rpt 48, 28 Jul. 
18 Ltr, Bradley to Eisenhower, 28 Jul, Pogue 
Files. 



Thus the German course of action would 
probably be an attempt to erect a hasty 
defensive line between Avranches and 
the town of Vire, a line along the south 
bank of the See River and the high 
ground south of Villedieu-les-Poeles and 
St. Sever-Calvados. The possibility was 
also present that the Germans might 
counterattack from the east with two 
panzer divisions, but this hardly seemed 
likely at the moment. The significant 
conclusion was that "destruction of 
LXXXIV Corps is believed at hand, and 
the destruction of II Parachute Corps is 
an immediate possibility." 19 

To give the enemy "no time to re- 
group and reorganize his forces," Gen- 
eral Bradley ordered his subordinate 
commanders to "maintain unrelenting 
pressure" on the Germans. 20 His great 
reliance on the judgment of his corps 
commanders, as well as the fluidity of 
the situation, led him to formulate his 
instructions in rather general terms. 21 

There was no need for specifics. Two 
immediate tasks lay ahead. The Ger- 
man forces still north of Coutances had 
to be destroyed, those retreating to the 
south had to be pursued. Difficulties 
were apparent. 

On the Cotentin west coast, where 
German disorganization seemed greatest, 
the VII and VIII Corps still had to com- 
plete their Cobra mission of eliminating 
the German forces trapped near Cout- 
ances. At the same time, the VII Corps, 
which had veered westward toward the 
coast, now had to turn south. Futher- 
more, VII Corps threatened to cause 
confusion by intermingling with VIII 

19 FUSA G-2 Est 12, 28 Jul. 

20 FUSA FO 2, 28 Jul. 

21 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 104- 
06. 



288 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Corps units. The VIII Corps, in addi- 
tion to concern over the approach of the 
VII Corps toward its zone of advance, 
faced mines and wrecked vehicles, 
obstacles that were serious hindrances to 
a rapid advance in the restricted coastal 
road net. Time would be needed to 
regroup both corps and clear the roads, 
minimum prerequisites, it seemed, for 
effective exploitation south toward 
Avranches. 

East of the Vire River, where only the 
V Corps remained, General Gerow's 
offensive was inevitably tied to British 
efforts on his left flank. 

Only the XIX Corps received precise 
instructions from General Bradley. 
General Corlett was to displace the XIX 
Corps west of the Vire River and assume 
responsibility for what had been part of 
the VII Corps zone. Corlett was to 
"attack aggressively" in a drive south 
along the west bank of the Vire to a 
"goose egg" Bradley had drawn on a 
map. The "goose-egg" objective was 
about twenty miles south of le Mesnil- 
Herman and encompassed the Foret de 
St. Sever and the town of Vire. 

If XIX Corps could secure its objec- 
tive, it would be into and partially 
through the highest terrain in Nor- 
mandy—a hill mass extending from 
Avranches through Vire to Falaise— 
and would be able to deny the Germans 
use of the ground as the basis of a new 
defensive line. Vire, an important road 
center less than twenty miles from the 
base of the Cotentin, would provide the 
First Army an excellent pivot for the 
wheeling movement projected a month 
earlier— the turn to the east that would 
allow other American forces to enter 
Brittany. 



To take the step into Brittany, Gen- 
eral Patton's Third Army headquarters 
was ready to become operational. When 
the Third Army became actively in- 
volved in operations on the Continent, 
the projected new U.S. command struc- 
ture was to go into effect: General Brad- 
ley would take command of the 12 th 
Army Group and Lt. Gen. Courtney H. 
Hodges, the Deputy Commander, First 
Army, would replace him as the First 
Army commander. It seemed as though 
the moment for the change might coin- 
cide with the end of the exploitation 
growing out of Cobra. 

So that the U.S. forces could slip neatly 
into the new command organization at 
the conclusion of the exploitation, Gen- 
eral Bradley made a special arrangement. 
He asked General Hodges "to keep close 
track of" the three corps on the left. 
He informally appointed General Pat- 
ton a second deputy commander and 
assigned him the mission of supervising 
the activities of the VIII Corps on the 
right. The VIII Corps, scheduled to 
come under control of the Third Army, 
was to act as a bridge to link the post- 
Cobra exploitation and the entrance of 
U.S. troops into Brittany. The Third 
Army was expected to be committed 
and pass into Brittany about 1 August. 22 

In the meantime, although Cobra 
and its consequences were an American 
responsibility, General Montgomery, as 
the Allied ground commander, was 
vitally concerned to promote progress 
on the American front. To create a 
diversion for Cobra, he had directed 
General Crerar to launch a holding 
attack on the Canadian front from Caen 

22 TUSA AAR, I, Ch. 2; Ltr, Bradley to Eisen- 
hower, 28 Jul, Pogue Files. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



289 



toward Falaise. In compliance, the 2d 
Canadian Corps had attacked on the 
morning of 25 July, at the same time that 
Cobra jumped off. The Canadian 
attack met such resistance, and set off 
such strong German counterattacks east 
of the Orne by two panzer divisions, that 
Montgomery halted the attack at the end 
of the first day. Enemy strength in the 
Caen sector was obviously too great for 
anything less than an all-out offensive 
effort, which Montgomery was unwilling 
or unable to mount. On the other 
hand, the presence of formidable enemy 
forces near Caen made it necessary for 
the British to exercise caution. Mont- 
gomery still considered holding Caen, 
the pivot of the entire Allied front in 
Normandy, his principal task, and to 
that end he set in motion deception 
measures and air and artillery activity to 
keep the enemy off balance and prevent 
him from making a serious threat against 
Caen. It was this that had brought 
Kluge to the Caen front on 27 July at 
the height of the Cobra action. 23 

Despite his preoccupation with Caen, 
Montgomery endeavored to assist Cobra. 
Looking elsewhere along the eastern por- 
tion of the Allied front, he discovered 
that there seemed to be little if any Ger- 
man armor in the Caumont sector. He 
decided that an attack south from Cau- 
mont along the British-American bound- 
ary by the Second British Army would 



23 Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, p. 139; 
British Army of the Rhine, Battlefield Tour, Op- 
eration BLUECOAT, 8 Corps Operations South of 
Caumont, 30-31 July 44 (Germany: Printing and 
Stationery Service, Control Commission for Ger- 
many, 1947) (hereafter cited as Operation BLUE- 
COAT), p. 1; FUSA G-2 Per Rpt 48, 28 Jul; 
Stacey, The Canadian Army, pp. 190-93. 



take advantage of German weakness and 
be of value. Not only would it help 
Cobra by preventing the Germans from 
dispatching forces westward across the 
Vire River against the Americans, it 
would also ameliorate the situation at 
Caen by drawing German armored 
reserves away from that sector. With 
the former intention his avowed purpose, 
Montgomery ordered General Dempsey 
to attack south from Caumont on 30 
July in an operation code-named Blue- 
coat. 

Like Goodwood, the attempted break- 
through effort south of Caen earlier in 
July, which had raised doubts concern- 
ing Montgomery's primary and second- 
ary motives, Bluecoat had its ambigu- 
ous aspects. If the original intention 
was to hold German forces in place, thus 
keeping them from crossing the Vire and 
interfering with Cobra, Bluecoat came 
too late to influence the panzer division 
that Kluge was moving from the Cau- 
mont region toward the American front. 
Yet because of the American success, it 
seemed likely that the Germans would 
make a general withdrawal in the Coten- 
tin and try to swing their entire left flank 
back to Avranches. To do so they need- 
ed a firmly held pivot point. A domi- 
nating hill complex culminating in 
Mont Pincon— five to eight miles south of 
the Caumont-Villers-Bocage line— in the 
British zone of advance seemed suitable 
for this purpose. If the British denied 
the Germans the potential pivot point 
and got behind those German forces try- 
ing to swing west to face the Americans, 
the German withdrawal might disinte- 
grate. This became the final purpose 
of Bluecoat. With the object of mov- 
ing from Caumont through the For£t 



290 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



l'Eveque to the town of Vire, the British 
were to attack on 30 July. 24 

Out of Operation Cobra thus emerged 
a plan of exploitation, a plan that 
sought to intensify German disorgani- 
zation by relentless pressure on the 
American front and by a quick thrust 
south from Caumont on the British 
front. If the plan succeeded, the Allied 
turning movement toward the southeast 
would become a reality, and American 
troops would be able to enter Brittany. 
For the plan to succeed, the V and XIX 
Corps of the First Army and the right 
flank corps of the Second British Army 
first had to secure a firm pivot point at 
the town of Vire. 

East of the Vire River 

While the British were preparing to 
join the offensive east of the Vire, the 
V Corps resumed the attack. Assuming 
responsibility for all the American-held 
territory east of the Vire on 28 July by 
taking control of the 35th Division, Gen- 
eral Gerow had free rein to push the V 
Corps to the south in the general di- 
rection of the town of Vire. Though 
General Bradley had assigned him no 
specific objectives, Bradley had asked 
him to keep the army headquarters in- 
formed on his intentions and progress. 
To his three divisions— the 2d, 5th, and 
35th— General Gerow stated his mission 
as he understood it: "We must keep 
going to maintain contact, and not give 
the Boche a chance to dig in. See that 
all understand this." 25 



24 British Army of the Rhine, Operation BLUE- 
COAT, p. 1; Conf Notes, 1100, 28 Jul, and 1645, 
28 Jul, FUSA G-3 Misc File. 

25 V Corps Memo, FUSA FO 2, 28 Jul, and pen- 
ciled note, V Corps G—3 Jnl. 



As the opposing // Parachute Corps 
pulled back in the hope of establishing 
defenses that could be tied in with the 
line the German units west of the Vire 
were trying to form, the V Corps on 28 
July secured its Cobra objective, the St. 
Jean-des-Baisants ridge from Ste. Suz- 
anne-sur-Vire to Vidouville. All three 
divisions advanced against light resist- 
ance and captured few prisoners. Al- 
though the enemy seemed much weaker 
as a result of the three-day attack and 
thus made prospects of a virtually un- 
limited advance seem possible for the 
V Corps, General Gerow was reluctant 
to initiate an unrestrained attack because 
of the terrain and his left flank. (See 
Map VI ) I 

The Souloeuvre-Vire river line, eleven 
miles beyond the St. Jean-des-Bais- 
ants ridge, appeared the obvious V Corps 
objective. Although the water alone 
constituted an obstacle to vehicular 
movement, the river runs through a 
ridge mass more than two miles in depth 
that presented an even more serious bar- 
rier to military advance. Steep-walled 
hills from 600 to 900 feet high would 
provide the Germans dominant obser- 
vation, cover and concealment, fields of 
fire, and a good communications net- 
work. Hoping to secure the area before 
the Germans could organize it for de- 
fense, General Gerow nevertheless felt 
that the intervening terrain precluded 
a rapid advance. In the heart of the 
bocage country, the corps sector east of 
the Vire was a region of small irregular 
hills, small winding roads, and small 
hedgerowed fields. Combat there was 
sure to resemble the earlier battle of the 
hedgerows in the Cotentin. 26 

26 V Corps G-2 Sec Tactical Study of the Ter- 
rain, 30 Jul; XIX Corps G—2 Est of Bocage, 25 Jul. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



291 



The second factor working against an 
unchecked V Corps advance was Gener- 
al Gerow's concern over his left flank. 
Until the British attacked south from 
Caumont on 30 July (prevented until 
then by difficulties of regrouping and 
deployment) and covered the flank, a 
headlong advance by V Corps would 
expose an increasingly vulnerable side 
to the enemy. 

General Gerow's solution for his two 
problems was to set limits on his ad- 
vance in order to keep tight control. 27 

The Germans facilitated the V Corps 
advance when the // Parachute Corps, 
with permission, pulled back again. 28 
Moving to the first limit of advance with 
very little difficulty, V Corps by noon 
29 July held a line from Conde sur-Vire 
to the British positions near Caumont. 
When the corps commander ordered the 
attack continued, troops pushed forward 
again for several thousand yards against 
sporadic resistance. 29 

Despite the absence of an organized 
German defensive line, the V Corps di- 
visions did not have an easy time. The 
terrain inhibited rapid advance, and am- 
bush lurked around every twist in the 
road. The bocage hills were populated 
by German rear-guard parties who used 
artillery, mortars, and small arms fire 
effectively. One American regimental 
commander, apparently near exhaustion, 
reported, "Things are not going very 
well," and said he "would like to be re- 
lieved of command." The division 
commander was not sympathetic. "I 



27 V Corps FO, 29 Jul, and G— 3 Situation Map, 
2030, 28 Jul; 5th Div Outline Plan, 0230, 27 Jul. 

28 Msg, Kluge to Hausser, 28 Jul, AGp B Op. Be- 
fehle, p. 195; Telecon, Tempelhoff and Pemsel, 
0935, 28 Jul, AGp B KTB. 

2 » V Corps G-3 Jnl, 29 Jul. 



will relieve you when I get ready to do 
so," he snapped, but later sought to 
soothe him: "Do not get discouraged," 
he said, "this is hedgerow fighting. It 
is tough." 30 

Receiving word that the Germans 
were withdrawing all along the First 
Army front and learning that the British 
were planning to attack on the following 
day, General Gerow on 29 July ordered 
his division commanders into an all-out 
advance. Instead of merely preventing 
disengagement, the corps was to "drive 
strong and hard" in "a relentless pur- 
suit." 31 As translated by General Rob- 
ertson, the troops were to "by-pass 
everything. Never mind these little 
pockets of resistance. . . . Let's get 
down and take a bath in the Vire." 32 
{Map VII) 

The instructions came too late. 
Though army headquarters claimed that 
only some "tired old Austrians" were in 
opposition, the troops had moved into 
contact with a defensive line covering 
an important road net centering on To- 
rigni-sur-Vire. As the 35th Division on 
30 July tried to take Torigni and the 2d 
and 5th Division to occupy high ground 
east of the village, the Germans inflicted 
close to 1,000 casualties, halted the ad- 



30 Telecon, Robertson and Hirschfelder, 1930, 
29 Jul, 2d Div G-3 Jnl. On the previous day, 
Colonel Hirschfelder, the 9th Infantry commander, 
had inspired his assault troops by turning his 
back to enemy fire and, in full view of the Ger- 
mans, had removed his helmet, placed his hands 
on his hips, and asked his men what was holding 
them up. This display of courage and of psycho- 
logical inspiration provided the spark for continued 
attack. Colonel Hirschfelder was awarded the DSC. 

81 V Corps FO 16, 29 Jul, Ltr of Instrs, 29 Jul, 
and Memos for the Record by the CofS, 1120 and 
1250, 29 Jul. 

82 Telecon, Robertson and Hirschfelder, 0920, 30 
Jul, 2d Div G—3 Jnl. 



292 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



vance, and dashed American hopes for 
an immediate pursuit. 33 

To breach the new line, the subordi- 
nate units of the V Corps made detailed 
attack plans, only to discover as they 
prepared to launch a co-ordinated offen- 
sive on the morning of 31 July that the 
Germans had disengaged. 34 Kluge had 
authorized the // Parachute Corps to 
withdraw. 35 In falling back, the Ger- 
mans abandoned not only the Torigni 
road net but also terrain that was highly 
defensible. Only mines and sporadic 
harassing artillery fire opposed an unin- 
terrupted advance. American troops 
cheerfully advanced across undefended 
ground, while their commanders chafed 
at the thought of the enemy slipping 
away undetected. 36 

Although all concerned pressed for 
speedy pursuit, the pace of the V Corps 
advance slowed during the afternoon of 
31 July. Nearing the Souloeuvre-Vire 
water line, the corps encountered pockets 
of resistance and delaying forces with 
increasing frequency. The pursuit 
again threatened to come to a halt. 

The boundaries delineating the corps 
zone of advance met near the town of 
Vire, fourteen miles southwest of To- 
rigni. If the British on the left and the 



88 35th Div G-3 Per Rpt 22, 31 Jul; Ltr, Brig 
Gen Ralph W. Zwicker to OCMH, 14 Mar 56, 
OCMH dies. Three members of the 5th Division 
were awarded the DSC for heroic action that day: 
1st Lt. Arthur J. Miller, S. Sgt. Konstanty Gugala, 
and Pfc. Henry N. Powell, the latter posthumously. 

84 2d Div G-2 Per Rpt and G-3 Jnl, 31 Jul; 35th 
Div FO 11, 30 Jul, and G-2 Per Rpt, 31 Jul; 5th 
Div AAR, Jul, and G-2 Per Rpt, 31 Jul; Gerow 
Msg, 1930, 30 Jul, 5th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

""Telecon, 0030, 31 Jul, AGp B KTB; Msg, AGp 
B to // Para Corps (for information to the Seventh 
Army and Panzer Group West) , 31 Jul, AGp B Op. 
Befehle, p. 206. 

See the corps and div G-3 Jnls, 31 Jul. 



XIX Corps on the right advanced as pro- 
jected, the V Corps would be pinched 
out near Vire. 37 Blocking the approach 
to the V Corps limit of advance was the 
east-west Vire-Souloeuvre river line and 
hill mass, seven miles north of Vire. 

These factors generally and a conver- 
sation with General Bradley specifically 
governed General Gerow's desire to cross 
the hills and the water barriers quick- 
ly. 38 Earlier on 31 July, Gerow had in- 
structed his division commanders to 
move only as far as the river line. Later 
in the afternoon he ordered each division 
commander to get at least one battalion 
of each front-line regiment across the 
river before dark. 

On the corps right and in its center, 
the 35th and 2d Divisions met such 
strong resistance on the approaches to 
the water line— and particularly near 
Tessy-sur-Vire— that it became obvious 
that they could not comply with instruc- 
tions. 39 On the other hand, the 5th Di- 
vision on the left met relatively light 
resistance, indicating that a hard push 
might gain a bridgehead across the 
stream. 

Unable to reach General Irwin, the 
5th Division commander, personally, 
Gerow phoned one of Irwin's regimental 
commanders and told him to mount his 
infantry on tanks. They were to bypass 
resistance, use only good roads, and get 
to the water and across it in at least bat- 



87 V Corps G-3 Situation Map, 2030, 29 Jul. 

88 Telecon, Gerow and Irwin, 1710, 31 Jul, 5th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

89 2d Lt. John F. Hermanspan, Jr., of the 35th 
Division, after withdrawing his platoon from a 
village, discovered that six wounded men had been 
abandoned there. Hermanspan re-entered the vil- 
lage and created a diversion to cover the evacuation 
of the casualties. Fatally wounded, Hermanspan 
was posthumously awarded the DSC. 



Tessy-sur-Vire. Road to Torigni crosses Vire River, left center. 



294 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



talion strength. "In short," Gerow 
commanded, "hurry." 40 Half an hour 
later he explained to Irwin, "I told you 
before to stop at the river— now I want 
you to change that." The 5th Division 
was to cover the more than six miles to 
the river line in record time. 41 

Less than an hour after Gerow for- 
warded these instructions, he learned 
that a British armored division had at- 
tacked to the southwest, entered the V 
Corps zone, and secured two bridges 
across the river. "Well now, I don't 
like British walking across our front 
[and] taking [our] objectives," Gener- 
al Gerow complained. 42 But since the 
British had already secured a bridge- 
head he saw no reason why the Amer- 
icans could not use it, specifically the 5th 
Division, for a quick drive across the re- 
maining seven miles to the town of 
Vire. 43 

Unfortunately, the intermingling of 
British tanks and American infantrymen 
caused confusion. The opportunity for 
an immediate exploitation by either the 
British or the Americans was lost. 44 
One regiment of the 5th Division 
reached the north bank of the Soulo- 
euvre River during the early morning 
hours of 1 August. There it remained 



40 Telecon, Gen Gerow and Col Charles W. Yuill, 
1645, 31 Jul, 5th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

41 Telecon, Gerow and Irwin, 1710, 31 Jul, 5th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

42 Telecon, Gerow and Irwin, 1750, 31 Jul, 5th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. According to V Corps Op- 
erations in the ETO, page 150, the British secured 
permission to move the armored unit on the road 
net across the 5th Division front. Who gave per- 
mission is not stated. 

" V Corps Msg, 1750, 31 Jul, and Telecon, Gerow 
and Irwin, 1910, 31 Jul, 5th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

44 5th Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1840, 1855, and 2245, 
3 1 J ul - 



throughout the day, out of contact much 
of the time with other division units. 

By then, however, after having ad- 
vanced more than seven miles in six 
days, the corps had reached the end of 
what had earlier promised to develop 
into an unlimited pursuit. On 1 Au- 
gust, as the 35th and 2d Divisions fought 
near Tessy-sur-Vire to get to the Soulo- 
euvre-Vire line, the boundary separating 
the British and Americans was moved 
to the west, thereby narrowing the V 
Corps sector and pinching out the en- 
tire 5th Division. 

Part of the reason for the boundary 
change was the success of the British at- 
tack south from Caumont. In compli- 
ance with Montgomery's endeavor to 
deny the Germans the pivot point near 
Mont Pincon, General Dempsey had 
launched the 8 Corps in Operation 
Bluecoat on 30 July. Following a 
bombardment by 700 heavy bombers 
and 500 medium and light bombers that 
dropped 2,200 tons of high explosive, 
the British attacked a sector that was 
lightly defended. Only the bombed and 
inexperienced 326th Infantry Division 
stood in the way. On the first day of 
the attack, the 1 1 th British Armoured 
Division advanced six to eight miles to 
come abreast of the V Corps east of To- 
rigni-sur-Vire. Operations on 31 July 
were hampered by the terrain: by the 
pronounced ridges running across the 
axis of advance; by the streams, which 
flowed in all directions and which in 
many cases were tank obstacles because 
of their width, depth, or marshy ap- 
proaches; and by the tortuous roads, 
which were often banked by high 
hedges. But these difficulties were 
quickly overcome when the British dis- 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



295 



covered that the Foret l'Eveque, which 
was astride the boundary between the 
Seventh Army and Panzer Group West, 
had through oversight been left unoc- 
cupied by the Germans. A vital stretch 
of some 1,500 yards of country was theirs 
for the taking. Thrusting through the 
forest, the 11th Armoured Division 
quickly gained the south bank of the 
Souloeuvre River and by 1 August oc- 
cupied high ground immediately east 
of the Vire. 45 

A Clash of Spearheads 

While the V Corps and the British 
were driving toward Vire from the north 
and northeast, XIX Corps was thrusting 
toward Vire from the northwest. The 
evidence unearthed by Cobra indicated 
that the Germans had nothing to stop 
a XIX Corps advance along the west 
bank of the Vire, and General Bradley 
had acted on that premise. Unfortu- 
nately, Kluge had not been idle. 

As early as the evening of 27 July, 
Kluge had begun to try to plug the 
spreading gap between LXXXIV and 
// Parachute Corps. He seized upon 
the 2d Panzer Division, then under Pan- 
zer Group West control. The panzer 
division had been relieved from front- 
line duty on 22 July by the 326th Infan- 
try Division (which had come from the 
Pas-de-Calais), and the armored unit 
had moved into reserve southwest of 
Caen. Having had a few days of respite 
from battle, the 2d Panzer Division was 
to move westward and across the Vire 



45 Opn Bluecoat, pp. 1-2, 47; Leigh-Mallory, 
"Despatch," Fourth Supplement to the London 
Gazette of December 31, 1946; see Wilmot, The 
Struggle for Europe, pp. 395-98. 



River to launch a counterattack designed 
to close the gap. 

Kluge at first thought of using the II 
Parachute Corps to direct the counter- 
attack, but he quickly decided to insert 
a new corps between the // Parachute 
and the LXXXIV. The LVIII Panzer 
Corps headquarters was moving from 
the Fifteenth Army toward the Panzer 
Group West area, and Kluge considered 
employing the panzer corps in the Sev- 
enth Army center to handle the 2d Pan- 
zer Division counterthrust already 
planned to take place toward Marigny 
and St. Gilles. 46 Kluge soon recognized, 
however, that the situation was chang- 
ing too rapidly for him to await commit- 
ment of the LVIII Panzer Corps. Tak- 
ing the XLVII Panzer Corps, which was 
not only more experienced but also 
closer to the Cotentin, and replacing it 
in the Panzer Group West front with 
the incoming LVIII, Kluge ordered the 
XLVII to take control of the 2d Panzer 
Division. By then the division was 
moving to an assembly area directly be- 
hind the 3j)2cf Division on the west bank 
of the Vire. 47 

Though Kluge was obviously con- 
cerned by the gap in the middle of the 
Seventh Army, he judged the Panzer 
Group West front still to be the more 
critical sector. The 2d Canadian Corps 
had launched an attack south of Caen 
toward Falaise on 25 July, and, although 
commitment of the pth SS Panzer Di- 
vision had soon checked the Canadians, 
continuing activity brought Kluge to 
that sector again two days later, on 27 



*° Telecon, Tempelhoff and Zimmerman, 1910, 
26 Jul, AGp B KTB; OB WEST KTB, 26 Jul. 

17 Telecons, Tempelhoff and Speidel, 1010, 27 
Jul, and Kluge and Pemsel, 1700, 27 Jul, AGp B 
KTB; OB WEST KTB, 27 Jul, and Anlage 87;. 



296 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



July. While he was there, Hausser and 
Choltitz were struggling to maintain a 
semblance of order in the LXXXIV 
Corps sector. When Kluge returned to 
his headquarters that evening, he learned 
that the LXXXIV Corps sector was in 
turmoil. When he discovered, on the 
following morning, 28 July, that three 
divisions had to be considered lost in 
the Cotentin and that the gap was larger 
than had been earlier reported, Kluge 
realized that the 2d Panzer Division 
would not be enough. He needed 
more troops west of the Vire. 

The 363d Division was en route to the 
Normandy front but was not immediate- 
ly available for commitment. The pth 
Panzer Division, released from the Nine- 
teenth Army in southern France, would 
not be on hand for about ten days. 
With no alternative but to call upon 
Panzer Group West and thereby weaken 
the front south of Caen, Kluge took the 
116th Panzer Division, a unit that had 
recently come from the Pas-de-Calais 
into Panzer Group West reserve. To- 
gether, the 2d and 116th Panzer Divi- 
sions, under the command of the XLVII 
Panzer Corps, were to attack north from 
Percy to close the gap between Notre- 
Dame-de-Cenilly and the Vire River. 48 

Starting on the night of 27 July, the 
2d Panzer Division crossed the Vire 
River at Tessy-sur-Vire and assembled 
near Moyon, three miles northwest of 
Tessy. On 28 July the XLVII Panzer 
Corps assumed command not only of 
the 2d Panzer Division but also of the 
remnants of the 3$2d Division near 
Beaucoudray and the few remaining 



48 Telecons, Kluge and Warlimont, 0925, 28 Jul, 
Kluge and Gause, 1303, 28 Jul, and Kluge and 
Blumentritt, 1645, 28 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



units of Panzer Lehr near Percy. The 
116th Panzer Division, making a forced 
daylight march, was expected to be in 
position to attack northwest from Percy 
on the following afternoon, 29 July. 
On 29 July the XLVII Panzer Corps 
also took command of the 2d SS Panzer 
Division, deployed between the Sienne 
River and a point east of Percy. 49 

Meanwhile, Kluge was satisfied on 28 
July that these arrangements were the 
best that could be made, particularly 
since Warlimont had promised to re- 
quest permission from Hitler for the 
Seventh Army to withdraw to the Gran- 
ville-Gavray-Percy— Tessy-sur-Vire— Cau- 
mont line. 50 Kluge felt reasonably cer- 
tain that he could re-establish a stable 
defensive line. The // Parachute Corps 
would remain essentially in place, mak- 
ing minor adjustments to conform to the 
new defenses but keeping the Panzer 
Group West left flank well covered. 
The XLVII Panzer Corps would plug 
the gap in the Seventh Army center. 
And the LXXXIV Corps, it still seemed 
at that date, would hold Coutances until 
strong forces withdrawing south had re- 
established a firm anchor at Granville 
for the entire German defenses in Nor- 
mandy. This was Kluge's hope. But 
first he had to reckon with the XIX U.S. 
Corps. 

General Corlett on 28 July was also 
displacing troops west of the Vire River. 
He had hoped to take with him his two 
experienced divisions, the 35th and 29th, 



48 Telecon, Kluge and his son Guenther, a It 
col, 1800, 28 Jul, and Speidel and Pemsel, 1350, 
28 Jul, AGp B KTB; AGp B KTB, 29 Jul, Darstel- 
lung der Ereignisse; Choltitz, Soldat Unter Soldaten, 
p. 208; MS # P-59 (Stoeckler) . 

60 Telecon, Kluge and Warlimont, 0925, 28 Jul, 
AGp B KTB; Der Westen (Schramm) . 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



297 



leaving the untested 28th Division (Maj. 
Gen. Lloyd D. Brown) on a relatively 
static front at St. L6. But the need for 
the 35th Division to advance south of 
St. L6 on 27 July to maintain pressure 
on the withdrawing Germans changed 
Corlett's plans. The 35th Division at- 
tack nevertheless provided an assist by 
securing an additional bridge over the 
Vire southeast of St. L6, thereby facili- 
tating the movement of the 28th and 
29th Divisions into the new corps 
zone. 51 

At noon on 28 July, while the dis- 
placement was being carried out, Gen- 
eral Corlett assumed responsibility for 
the units already engaged in his new 
zone-the 30th Division and CCA of the 
2d Armored Division, the latter rein- 
forced by the 4th Division's 22d Infantry, 
plus the 113th Cavalry Group. (See 
\Map VI.) I 

The XIX Corps mission of driving 
south about twenty miles from le Mesnil- 
Herman to the town of Vire in what was 
hoped would be a virtually uncontested 
pursuit contrasted with the previous aim 
of the forces already engaged on the 
west bank of the Vire River. While 
under VII Corps and engaged in Opera- 
tion Cobra, the 30th Division and the 
reinforced CCA of the 2d Armored Divi- 
sion had driven south to wall off the 
Vire River against possible German at- 
tacks launched from the east. By noon, 
28 July, they were completing their 
Cobra assignments. The 30th Division, 
after securing three Vire River bridges 
south of St. L6, was moving against slight 
resistance toward a natural stopping 

51 FUSA Memo, 23 Jul, and Msg, 0015, 28 Jul, 
FUSA G-3 Jnl; 28th and 29th Div AAR's, Jul; 
XIX Corps Ltrs of Instr, 6, 1130, and 9, 2330, 27 Jul, 
and G-3 Per Rpt 51, 28 Jul. 



place, a stream south of the villages of 
Moyon and Troisgots, where General 
Hobbs hoped to "get a little breather." 52 
CCA was in possession of its primary 
Cobra objective, le Mesnil-Herman, and 
was probing toward the towns of Ville- 
baudon and Tessy-sur-Vire. 

Less concerned with blocking a pos- 
sible German move across the Vire than 
with launching a rapid advance to the 
south, General Corlett believed a quick 
movement to his objective to be possible. 
Estimates indicated that the XIX Corps 
faced fewer than 3,000 German com- 
bat effectives— disorganized and battered 
units suported by only four artillery bat- 
talions and scattered batteries of self- 
propelled guns. Without prepared posi- 
tions and lacking reserves, the Germans 
could make a stand at only two places, 
on high ground south of Tessy-sur-Vire 
and on commanding terrain near Vire. 53 

One speck blemished this optimistic 
view. While reconnoitering in force 
from le Mesnil-Herman toward Ville- 
baudon and Tessy-sur-Vire on 27 July, 
task forces of CCA had encountered in- 
creasing resistance that denied advance 
of more than two miles in each direc- 
tion. 54 It became apparent that part of 
the 2d Panzer Division, believed moving 
westward, was already west of the Vire 
River. Although Allied planes were 
harassing the enemy's approach, the 
panzer division was judged capable of 
getting at least a motorized infantry 
regiment and about twenty tanks in 
front of the XIX Corps by the morning 
of 28 July. 55 

52 Telecon, Hobbs, 2210, 27 Jul, 30th Div G— 3 
Jnl and File. 

ss Intel Annex to XIX Corps FO 8, 0300, 28 Jul. 

54 2d Armd Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1130, 27 Jul; 
30th Div G— 3 Jnl, entries 1540, 2100, 2305, 27 Jul. 

55 Intel Annex to XIX Corps FO 8, 0300, 28 Jul. 



298 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



So long as this estimate remained only 
a pessimistic possibility, General Corlett 
saw no reason why he could not advance 
beyond Tessy-sur-Vire and block off this 
excellent crossing site before the 2d 
Panzer Division and other German units 
could offer serious resistance. Thus he 
designated the high ground south of 
Tessy— along the Percy-Pontfarcy line- 
as the initial corps objective. With this 
potential enemy defensive line neu- 
tralized and with the 28th and 29th Divi- 
sions in place for the attack, he would 
drive to the town of Vire. 58 

To seize the Percy— Pontfarcy line, 
General Corlett directed General Hobbs 
to take Tessy-sur-Vire with the 30th 
Division and block the river crossing 
sites. No doubt recalling the confusion 
that had occurred in the Taute and Vire 
bridgehead area when the 30th Division 
and a different combat command had 
intermingled, the corps commander 
halted movement of the 2d Armored 
Division's CCA toward Tessy-sur-Vire. 57 
Instead, the reinforced CCA was to con- 
centrate on the right of the corps zone 
and attack south through Villebaudon to 
Percy. Counting on the mobility of the 
armored force and on continuing enemy 
disorganization, Corlett instructed the 
armored commander, General Rose, to 
move from Percy eastward to the Vire 
River. This would serve to encircle 
Tessy from the west and isolate the town 
from the south. Then the 29th Divi- 
sion, and later the 28th, would attack 
to the south. 58 

As events developed, these arrange- 



50 XIX Corps FO 8, 28 Jul. 

57 30th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1550, 28 Jul; Telecons, 
Corlett and Hobbs, 1313 and 1937, 28 Jul, 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

58 XIX Corps FO 8, 28 Jul. 



ments were too late, for on 28 July the 
2d Panzer Division was assembling west 
of the Vire River on a small plateau 
around Tessy-sur-Vire. The panzer 
troops gathered behind an east— west 
tributary of the Vire River— the stream 
running south of Moyon and Troisgots— 
and in the area immediately northwest 
of Tessy for an attack to the northwest. 
To protect the assembly of the 2d Panzer 
Division, Kluge had instructed Hausser 
to have the // Parachute Corps, which 
still straddled the Vire River, establish a 
strong defensive line from Moyon east- 
ward through Conde-sur-Vire and Bie- 
ville to Caumont, where it was to tie in 
with the LVIII Panzer Corps. 69 Al- 
though the line east of the Vire— from 
Conde-sur-Vire through Bieville— had 
successfully delayed the V Corps north 
of Torigni-sur-Vire, the slashing Cobra 
attack of the 30th Division and CCA had 
invalidated positions along that line west 
of the Vire. CCA had already out- 
flanked the line on the west by reaching 
Villebaudon on 28 July, and the 30th 
Division was approaching Troisgots. 

The remnants of the J^2d Division, re- 
inforced by elements of the 2d Panzer 
Division as they arrived, got set to hold 
the Moyon-Troisgots line. As troops of 
the 30th Division descended a naked 
slope during the afternoon of 28 July 
and moved toward the stream and a long 
incline behind it, they came under in- 
tense fire. The configuration of the 
terrain exposed the attackers and 
gave the defenders defilade. American 
counterbattery missions seemed to have 
no effect on enemy fire, and from the 



59 Msg, Kluge to Hausser, 28 Jul, AGp B Op. 
Befehle, p. 195; Telecon, Tempelhoff and Pemsel, 
0935, 28 Jul, AGp B KTB. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



299 



ridge just south of the Moyon-Troisgots 
stream German machine guns, tanks, 
self-propelled guns, and artillery denied 
advance. 60 

Although General Hobbs committed 
his reserve regiment on the following 
day, 29 July, the forces failed to move 
forward. Certain internal difficulties 
were apparent: the troops were ex- 
hausted, a shortage of telephone wire 
hampered communications, and fighter- 
bombers in close support inadvertently 
strafed and bombed several 30th Divi- 
sion units. But the principal reason 
why the 30th Division did not take 
Troisgots was the presence of the fresh 
and strong 2d Panzer Division defending 
advantageous terrain. Two co-ordi- 
nated attacks against Troisgots— the bas- 
tion of the defensive line— by all three 
regiments of the 30th Division abreast 
on 30 July and artillery fire exceeding 
thrice the amount usually expended still 
failed to propel the division beyond the 
line of departure. Enemy shells knocked 
out six of nineteen tanks supporting one 
regiment. 61 

By this time General Corlett had 
changed the division objective from 



00 [Maj. Franklin Ferriss], Operations of 30th 
Infantry Division, 24 July-i August (hereafter cited 
[Ferriss], Opns of 30th Div) , a preliminary MS, 
Hist Div USFET, 1946, OCMH Files; 30th Div G-3 
Jnl, entry 1955, 30 Jul; Telecon, Hobbs and Kelly, 
1413, 29 Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File; 117th Inf 
S-3 Rpt, 30 Jul. 

61 30th Div G-3 Jnl, entries 0540, 0910, 1342, 1347, 
and 1350, 29 Jul; 30th Sig Co Unit Rpt, 29 Jul; 
Hewitt, Story of the 30th Infantry Division, pp. 
43ft. S. Sgt. J. W. Parks, who though wounded 
took command of a platoon after both the platoon 
leader and the sergeant became casualties, T. Sgt. 
Fred D. Steelman, who exercised heroic leadership, 
and S. Sgt. Frederick W. Unger were awarded the 
DSC for their actions. 



Tessy-sur-Vire to Troisgots. 62 Not only 
did Tessy seem completely out of reach 
for the moment, even Troisgots ap- 
peared unattainable. The 30th Divi- 
sion was far from getting the "little 
breather" General Hobbs had hoped for. 

For all the indications of failure, the 
30th Division to a great extent had pre- 
vented the 2d Panzer Division from 
launching its own counterattack. Haus- 
ser had helped the Americans too. 
Having become convinced that the 
XLVII Panzer Corps attack had failed 
even before it got started, Hausser 
ordered the corps to assume defensive 
positions along a broad front between 
the Vire River and Gavray. Kluge 
countermanded the order at once, but 
the resulting delay as well as inevitable 
confusion on the staff levels harmed the 
offensive purpose. 

Some credit for balking the 2d Panzer 
Division's offensive intentions also be- 
longed to the 2d Armored Division's 
CCA, which had made its weight felt 
on the right of the 30th Division. By 
noon of 28 July, when General Corlett 
assumed control, General Rose's combat 
command had already secured Ville- 
baudon. An armored column conduct- 
ing a reconnaissance in force that morn- 
ing had destroyed six German armored 
vehicles and a Mark IV tank and had 
overrun about fifty soldiers to take the 
village. Another column reconnoiter- 
ing simultaneously toward Tessy-sur- 
Vire, in contrast, met strong armored 
forces obviously belonging to the 2d 
Panzer Division and returned to the 
vicinity of le Mesnil-Herman. Ordered 



62 30th Div Ltr of Instr, 30 Jul; Overlay to 
Accompany Verbal FO Issued 1140, 30 Jul, 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl and File. 



300 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



to discontinue the thrust toward Tessy, 
directed instead to attack along the axis 
from le Mesnil-Herman through Ville- 
baudon to Percy, and strengthened by 
attachment of the 113th Cavalry Group, 
General Rose immediately reinforced 
his troops in Villebaudon with the cav- 
alry group and the 14th Armored Field 
Artillery Battalion. 63 

Although the route south from le 
Mesnil-Herman to Percy seemed clear of 
large German contingents, the arrival of 
the 2d Panzer Division in the Tessy-sur- 
Vire region threatened the CCA line of 
communications. The roads leading 
west from Tessy were excellent for sup- 
porting German armored thrusts toward 
Villebaudon and Percy. To prevent the 
panzer troops from cutting the north- 
south le Mesnil-Herman-Villebaudon- 
Percy road, General Rose tried to erect 
a barrier along his eastern boundary. 
He had divided CCA into three task 
forces, each consisting of a company of 
the 2 2d Infantry, a medium tank com- 
pany of the 66th Armored Regiment, a 
platoon of light tanks, and supporting 
units. Since one task force was already 
in Villebaudon, he sent the other two 
south and southeast from le Mesnil- 
Herman toward Moyon, giving them the 
eventual objective of cutting the east- 
west Villebaudon-Tessy highway and 
thereby providing flank protection for 
the main attack to Percy. 

The task force that attacked southeast 
from le Mesnil-Herman on the afternoon 
of 28 July drove through le Mesnil-Opac 
and destroyed five Mark IV tanks and 
four antitank guns without loss. How- 
ever, increasingly heavy opposition from 

08 The following account is taken largely from 
[Pillsbury], 2d Armored Div in Opn Cobra, pp. 
32ft., and from the 2d Armored Div AAR, Jul. 



roving tanks, infiltrating infantrymen, 
antitank and dual-purpose antiaircraft 
guns, mortars, and artillery forced the 
column to return to le Mesnil-Herman. 
The task force attacking to the south 
reached the village of Moyon but, unable 
to go farther, also returned to le Mesnil- 
Herman. 

Meanwhile, the Germans threatened 
to cut the main road between le Mesnil- 
Herman and Villebaudon and isolate the 
CCA spearhead. Three enemy tanks 
actually moved westward from Moyon 
and seized a crossroads near la Denisiere. 
Reversing one battery to fire north from 
Villebaudon toward la Denisiere at very 
short range, the 14th Armored Field 
Artillery Battalion soon drove the three 
tanks away. Unable to cut the road 
physically, the Germans attempted to 
seal off Villebaudon by interdictory 
artillery fire along the highway. The 
shelling of the la Denisiere intersection 
remained heavy, but American ammuni- 
tion and supply vehicles, forced to speed 
through the crossroads at irregular in- 
tervals, managed for the most part to 
evade damage. 

On 2g July General Rose sent both 
task forces from le Mesnil-Herman to 
take the village of Moyon. Though the 
attempt failed, the CCA task force in 
Villebaudon moved south to Percy 
against light resistance. Percy proved 
untenable. The armored force with- 
drew to hills north of the town and 
awaited reinforcement. Threatening to 
block reinforcement, the Germans again 
cut the axis of communication behind 
the advance units near Percy. As enemy 
artillery interdicted the le Mesnil-Her- 
man-Percy highway and as enemy tanks 
dueled with American tank destroyers, 
small German detachments infiltrated 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



301 



across the route and set up hasty road- 
blocks. 

The arrival of the 29th Division, while 
not ameliorating the situation at once, 
gave hope of improvement in the near 
future. Two of General Gerhardt's 
regiments— the 116th and 175th— moved 
into the line near Moyon and Percy to 
relieve the CCA task forces, which then 
assembled near le Mesnil-Herman. Di- 
rected to advance through Villebaudon 
and Percy, the third regiment, the 115th 
Infantry, was stopped by the German 
roadblocks on the highway. Although 
General Corlett that evening optimis- 
tically ordered an advance to Vire, the 
corps objective, it was obvious that he 
first had to eliminate the enemy bridge- 
head at Tessy-sur-Vire. 84 

To eliminate the bridgehead, General 
Corlett decided to shorten CCA's 
planned envelopment of Tessy. Instead 
of moving eastward from Percy, General 
Rose was to strike east from Villebaudon. 
If successful, the combat command might 
outflank the enemy's Moyon-Troisgots 
line. The 29th Division would then be 
able to proceed through Villebaudon 
and Percy and launch the drive toward 
Vire. 

On the morning of 30 July, a rein- 
forced tank battalion and an infantry 
company of CCA moved from le Mesnil- 
Herman through Villebaudon, turned 
east toward Tessy-sur-Vire, and immedi- 
ately met firm opposition. A fire fight 
involving forty American tanks as well 
as infantry and antitank guns lasted all 
day. The 2d Panzer Division was tied 
down in the Tessy region, but the 116th 
Panzer Division had appeared on the 
scene. After being harassed and delayed 



by Allied airplanes during its march 
across the Vire River, the 116th finally 
jumped off on the morning of 30 July. 
At once it became bogged down in a 
struggle for the hills around Percy, 
Villebaudo n, and Beaucoudray. (See 
Map VII. )\ 

For the Americans, the problem of 
taking Tessy vanished under the more 
pressing need to hold Villebaudon. 
While the 28th Division's 109th Infantry 
remained north of le Mesnil-Herman to 
constitute the corps reserve, the other 
two regiments of the division— the 110th 
and 112th— moved south of le Mesnil- 
Herman to back up the defense of Ville- 
baudon. The 116th and 175th Regi- 
ments of the 29th Division exerted pres- 
sure meanwhile against Moyon and 
Percy, and the 30th Division placed 
pressure against Troisgots. As a result 
of this corps-wide effort and of assistance 
from fighter-bombers that struck Tessy- 
sur-Vire several times during the day, 
CCA retained possession of Villebau- 
don. 65 Meanwhile, the 29th Division's 
115th Infantry, which had been blocked 
south of Villebaudon, finally reached the 
outskirts of Percy. 

The 14th Armored Field Artillery Bat- 
talion played a significant part in the 
battle on 30 July. Ordered to move 
from Villebaudon to Percy that morning, 
the battalion had formed in a march 
column with the heads of the battery 
columns on the main road leading south. 
Before the move started, news of the 
counterattack prompted the unit to hold 
in place and assume firing positions. 
Although scattered small arms fire struck 
near the guns for an hour around noon, 



64 XIX Corps FO 9, 2330, 29 Jul. 



66 30th Div G-3 Jnl, entries 1440 and 1539, 
30 Jul. 



302 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the artillerymen accepted and fulfilled 
all fire missions. They marked enemy 
attack concentrations with red smoke to 
lead fighter-bombers to lucrative targets. 
They also engaged enemy tanks at 
ranges of less than 2,000 yards. Finally, 
when German fire became too intense, 
they withdrew to new positions north of 
Villebaudon. There the 18th and the 
65th Field Artillery Battalions were at- 
tached to the 14th Armored Field Artil- 
lery Battalion, which also assumed opera- 
tional control of the 44th Field Artillery 
Battalion through its fire direction cen- 
ter. Controlling the fires of four bat- 
talions of 105-mm. howitzers, the 14th 
also co-ordinated missions for the XIX 
Corps Artillery, which sent a liaison 
officer to the battalion for this purpose. 80 
At the end of 30 July, the XIX Corps 
still was seriously engaged in the Percy- 
Tessy-sur-Vire area. From the high 
ground between Percy and Tessy, the 
Germans shelled the American units ef- 
fectively and interdicted the roads in 
the Villebaudon area at will. 67 Still 
trying to eliminate the German bridge- 
head at Tessy, General Corlett ordered 
the attack to resume on 31 July, but 
with a modification. From positions 
forming an arc from Moyon through 
Villebaudon to Percy, all three regiments 
of the 29th Division— the 116th on the 
left (north), the 175th in the center, and 
the 1 1 5th on the right (the 1 1 5th after 
relief near Percy by the 28th Division's 
1 10th Infantry)— were to attack eastward 
toward Tessy and support another at- 



66 [Pillsbury], 2d Armored Div in Opn Cobra, 
PP- 36-39- 

67 [Maj Franklin Ferriss], Notes on the Opns 
of the XIX Corps, 28 Jul 44-13 Jan 45 (hereafter 
cited [Ferriss], Notes), ML-2208; see Hodgson, 
R-58. 



tempt by CCA to destroy the bridge- 
head. While this attack was in prog- 
ress, the 28th Division was to move south 
through Villebaudon to Percy to get 
into position for a drive south to Vire. 

About noon, 31 July, two battalions- 
one from the 66th Armored Regiment 
and the other from the attached 2 2d 
Infantry— advanced eastward from Ville- 
baudon toward Tessy-sur-Vire to spear- 
head a 29th Division supporting attack. 
Halfway to Tessy, the armored troops 
encountered several enemy tanks in a 
wood on the far side of a ravine. Un- 
able to find a crossing site over the ravine 
and receiving heavy artillery fire, they 
halted and took cover while fighter- 
bombers attempted without success to 
dislodge the Germans. The troops of 
the 29th Division, like the spearhead, 
were unsuccessful in achieving more 
than limited advances. 68 

Meanwhile the 28th Division was mov- 
ing south toward Percy and on that day 
assumed responsibility for its zone. 
The move was far from successful, even 
though the division was moving through 
what was essentially a rear area. 69 Dis- 
playing the usual symptoms of a unit 
new to combat, the troops of the 28th 
Division would need several days to over- 
come a natural hesitancy to advance 
under fire, to become accustomed to 
maneuvering in unfamiliar terrain, and 
to learn the techniques of advancing 
through hedgerow country. 70 



08 30th Div G-3 Jnl, entry 1440, 31 Jul. 

68 S. Sgt. Walter R. Tauchert, armed with a rifle 
and grenade launcher, destroyed two machine guns, 
routed an armored vehicle, and enabled his pla- 
toon to reach its objective. He was awarded the 
DSC posthumously. 

70 XIX Corps Msg, 1450, 31 Jul, 30th Div G-3 
Jnl and File; 28th Div AAR, Jul. 



EXPLOITING THE BREACH 



303 



A significant change in the situation 
occurred on 3 1 July in the 30th Division 
sector, where General Hobbs was trying 
for the fourth day to take Troisgots. 
For the attack on 31 July, Hobbs placed 
his entire attached tank battalion at the 
disposal of the 119th Infantry, which 
was to make the main effort in the center 
of the division front. The gesture was 
more impressive in theory than in fact 
since losses had reduced the tank bat- 
talion to thirty-four lights and mediums, 
of which only thirteen Shermans actually 
were available for front-line duty. 71 Ac- 
companied by these tanks, the 119th 
Infantry was to press in on Troisgots 
from three sides as the other regiments 
supported. 

An infantry battalion and a few sup- 
porting tanks managed to get into 
Troisgots during the afternoon and de- 
stroy by tank fire and bazooka shells 
several enemy tanks and self-propelled 
guns, the heart of the German defense. 
Success was in a large measure due to 
1st Lt. Harry F. Hansen of the 743d 
Tank Battalion, who dismounted from 
his tank and led two infantrymen with 
bazookas to positions from which to fire 
on three hostile tanks. Two burst into 
flame upon direct hits, the third re- 
tired. 72 By evening the regiment was 
mopping up the village. The Germans 
had given way most reluctantly. The 
fall of Troisgots had been "no col- 
lapse." 73 

Capture of Troisgots occurred as news 



71 [Ferriss], Opns of 30th Div, pp. 31-32; 30th 
Div Msg, 1005, 31 Jul, 30th Div G-3 Jnl and File. 

72 Hansen was awarded the DSC. 

73 Telecon, Hobbs, 1510, 31 Jul; 30th Div G— 3 
Jnl, entries 0429 and 1855, 31 Jul; Hewitt, Story 
of the joth Infantry Division, pp. 44-45; [Ferriss], 
Opns of 30th Div, p. 32. 



came to the Germans that Americans in 
the Cotentin were threatening Granville 
and even Avranches (indeed, had per- 
haps taken them) and that British and 
Americans were advancing toward the 
town of Vire. Withdrawal became im- 
perative. Kluge's authorization for the 
Seventh Army to pull back to a line that 
would still protect Granville, Tessy-sur- 
Vire, and Vire seemed unrealistic. 74 
The forces between Percy and Tessy 
began to withdraw, shifting slightly west- 
ward toward Villedieu and Gavray. 

Suspecting the imminent collapse of 
the German positions, General Corlett 
ordered his subordinate commanders to 
maintain vigorous patrolling during the 
night to maintain contact with the 
enemy. "Watch . . . and see that he does 
not pull out," Corlett warned. 75 If a 
withdrawal was discovered, the units 
were to pursue. Since Corlett felt that 
the Germans would continue to hold 
Tessy-sur-Vire to cover their withdrawal, 
he planned still another attack for 1 Au- 
gust. Attaching CCA to the 29th Divi- 
sion, he ordered General Gerhardt to 
drive eastward again from Villebaudon 
to Tessy-sur-Vire while the 30th Division 
pressed against Tessy from the north. 
The 28th Division was to move south 
through Percy and attack toward Vire. 78 

On the morning of 1 August, CCA 
spearheaded the 29th Division attack by 
again moving toward Tessy-sur-Vire with 
an armored battalion on each side of 
the highway. A unique armored point 
of five vehicles moved ahead of the 
force. A light tank, acting as a decoy, 

"Telecon, 0030, 31 Jul, AGp B KTB; AGp B 
Msg, 31 Jul, AGp B Op. Befehle, p. 206. 

75 Telecon, Corlett and Hobbs, 1923, 31 Jul, 30th 
Div G— 3 Jnl and File. 

76 XIX Corps Ltrs of Instr, 10 and 11, 31 Jul. 



304 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



advanced along the road; two medium 
tanks, one hundred yards ahead of the 
light tank, moved along the sides of the 
road to flush and engage enemy tanks; 
and two tank destroyers, two hundred 
yards behind the light tank, advanced 
along the sides of the road, alert to rein- 
force the medium tanks by quick fire. 

Taking advantage of ground mist, 
the men and vehicles of CCA crossed 
the ravine that had held up progress on 
the previous day and overran and de- 
stroyed a column of German vehicles. 
Although three American tanks entered 
the outskirts of Tessy during the morn- 
ing, the Germans drove the crewmen 
out after all three tanks developed 
mechanical failures. 

Earlier on 1 August General Hobbs 
had instructed the 120th Infantry to 
send a token force to participate in the 
capture of Tessy-sur-Vire. "We were 
suddenly ordered ... to take off for 
Tessy," explained the commander of the 
rifle company selected for the mission, 
"so we took off." 77 Without an artil- 
lery forward observer, the company 
moved cross-country to within a mile of 
the town before an enemy machine gun 
and several mortars took the troops 
under fire. Knocking out the machine 
gun with grenades, the infantrymen in- 
filtrated into the edge of Tessy. Having 
understood that Tessy had already been 
secured by CCA and that he was merely 
to set up roadblocks there, the company 



77 Quoted in Hewitt, Story of the joth Infantry 
Division, p. 45. 



commander was disconcerted when 
enemy forces appeared and drove his 
men out helter-skelter. 

CCA mounted a second attack that 
afternoon and penetrated Tessy. Men 
of the 2 2d Infantry cleared the center of 
the town and crossed the river to estab- 
lish outposts. In the meantime, several 
CCA tanks rumbling through the north- 
ern outskirts of Tessy restored spirit to 
the company of the 30th Division that 
had earlier been driven out. "The 
tanks could have had wooden guns," said 
one of the men. Their presence alone 
was invigorating. Together, infantry- 
men and tankers cleared the northern 
outskirts. 78 

Getting into Tessy did not mean that 
the town was secure. German artillery 
shells continued to fall into the streets 
until the 35th Division of the V Corps 
across the river took high ground east of 
the town on the following day, 2 August. 
At that time, the 30th Division passed 
into XIX Corps reserve and CCA re- 
verted to 2d Armored Division control. 

The XIX Corps was still far from its 
post-CoBRA objective. But it had con- 
tributed handsomely to the final success 
growing out of Cobra. By blocking for 
five days the German attempt to re- 
establish a defensive line across the 
Cotentin, XIX Corps had enabled troops 
on the First Army right to make a 
spectacular end run. 

78 Hewitt, Story of the }oth Infantry Division, 
pp. 45-46; [Ferriss], Opns of 30th Div, pp. 35-36; 
XIX Corps G— 3 Per Rpts 54 and 55, 31 Jul and 
1 Aug. 



CHAPTER XVI 



Breakthrough Becomes Breakout 



The Outflanking Force 

While General Bradley on 28 July 
was giving direction to the exploitation 
growing out of Cobra, General Collins' 
VII Corps still had not completed its as- 
signment in the Cobra operation. The 
1st Division, with Combat Command B 
of the 3d Armored Division attached, 
was establishing positions in the Cout- 
ances-Marigny area. The rest of the 
3d Armored Division was engaged near 
Montpinchon. The 2d Armored Divi- 
sion, less CCA, was extending a line 
across the Cotentin from Notre-Dame-de- 
Cenilly to Cerences. The 4th Division, 
less the 2 2d Infantry, was hurrying to 
the Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly sector to rein- 
force the armored division. Only the 
gth Division was out of contact with the 
enemy— needing rest, it was about to 
pass into corps reserve. Both the 30th 
Division and the 2d Armored's CCA had 
been transferred to the XIX Corps, and 
plans already were under way to redis- 
tribute some of the extra artillery pro- 
vided the VII Corp s for O peration 
Cobra. 1 (See ]MaPs Vlh nd \VII.\ 



Still oriented to- the west in accord 
with the Cobra plan, VII Corps would 
have to make a sharp turn to the south 
before taking part in the exploitation, a 
maneuver that well might delay its 

1 VII Corps Opns Memos 52 and 53, 30 and 
31 Jul. 



participation. In hope of speeding the 
shift and holding traffic congestion to 
a minimum, General Collins first 
ordered reorientation and attack by the 
units that were farthest south in the corps 
sector, the 2d Armored and 4th Infantry 
Divisions, only to see this plan disrupted 
by the continued pressure against the 
2d Armored Division the Germans ex- 
erted in trying to escape the Roncey 
pocket. 2 So long as this pressure per- 
sisted, the 2d Armored Division could 
not assume a new mission. 

Having detached the 3d Armored 
Division's CCB from the 1st Division in 
order to provide an armored reserve 
under his original plan, General Collins 
saw a solution to his problem in reunit- 
ing the combat command with its parent 
division and using the 3d Armored in 
the exploitation attack. He ordered the 
3d Armored to go south early on 30 July 
and pass through the 2d Armored in 
order to attack on the right and abreast 
of the 4th Division. To reinforce the 
4th Division, since the 2 2d Infantry had 
passed to control of the XIX Corps, 
Collins provided it with the 1st Divi- 
sion's 26th Infantry. The remainder 
of the 1st Division was to be in reserve, 
but be prepared to move south on six 
hours' notice. The gth Division was to 



2 VII Corps Opns Memo 51, 29 Jul (confirming 
oral orders issued 26 Jul) . 



306 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



go into bivouac for rest and reorganiza- 
tion. 3 

The 3d Armored and 4th Divisions 
were ready to take up the post-CoBRA 
exploitation on the morning of 30 July. 
The two divisions were to attack south- 
east for seven miles from Gavray to 
Villedieu-les-Poeles. The infantry was 
to take Villedieu, an important road 
center in the middle of the Cotentin 
about half way between Granville and 
the town of Vire, and high ground east 
of Villedieu, while the armor was to 
seize high ground and river crossing sites 
west of Villedieu. 

The situation seemed propitious since 
the Germans west of the Vire River— 
perhaps 16,000 men and less than 
three tank battalions— were in retreat. 
Neither reserves nor a German defensive 
line north of the Avranches-Tessy-sur- 
Vire area was in evidence. 4 

Attacking with two regiments abreast 
on the morning of 30 July, the 4th 
Division encountered little opposition 
until it arrived about four miles north 
of Villedieu-les-Poeles. Here an artil- 
lery preparation and a battalion attack 
during the afternoon failed to eliminate 
the opposition. Excellent defensive ter- 
rain and the presence of strong enemy 
forces, particularly on the 4th Division 
left on ground south of Percy, brought 
operations to a temporary halt. 

On the 4th Division right, the two 
combat commands of the 3d Armored 
Division in the meantime had driven 
toward Gavray and Hambye to cross the 
Sienne River abreast. 5 Of the two, CCB 



3 VII Corps Opns Memo 52, 30 Jul (confirming 
oral orders issued 29 Jul) . 

4 3d Armd Div FO 5, 30 Jul. 

B 3d Armd Div FO 5, 30 Jul (confirming oral 
orders) . 



had less difficulty, despite poor country 
roads and wrecked German vehicles that 
had to be pushed off the roads before 
the columns could pass. Reaching 
Hambye in early afternoon of 30 July, 
CCB found a damaged bridge and met 
small arms fire from the south bank, 
but a small reconnaissance party sup- 
ported by fire from the advance guard 
was sufficient to drive the Germans back. 
Engineers repaired the bridge by late 
afternoon, and the combat command 
continued the march south toward Vil- 
ledieu-les-Poeles. Like the infantry, the 
armor ran into increasing resistance 
when nearing Villedieu. Since portions 
of the combat command still had to cross 
the Sienne before a full-scale attack 
could be mounted against the objective 
west of the town, Colonel Boudinot 
halted CCB and established perimeter 
defenses for the night. 6 

In moving to Gavray, CCA of the 
3d Armored Division had been ham- 
pered by the presence of troops of other 
divisions. CCA's Cobra attack had 
brought it to, and in some places be- 
yond, the Coutances-Lengronne high- 
way, which had been pre-empted by, 
then turned over to, the VIII Corps. 
Since armor of the VIII Corps was driv- 
ing south along this route, intermingling 
of VII and VIII Corps troops was 
inevitable. "Things were in wild dis- 
order," General Collins later recalled. 
Extricating hundreds of CCA men and 
vehicles from what had become the ad- 
jacent corps sector was difficult work. 
Had CCA been able to use the main 
highway from Coutances through Len- 
gronne to Gavray, its advance would 
have been simplified. But CCA, like 



3d Armd Div G— 3 Per Rpt 36, 30 Jul. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



307 



CCB, had been relegated to a network 
of narrow, muddy, twisting roads that 
would have retarded movement even if 
hundreds of burned-out German vehicles 
had not blocked the way in Roncey and 
along the roads leading south and south- 
east. Furthermore, orienting CCA from 
west to southeast involved turning the 
advance guards, uncoiling columns, re- 
grouping forces, and, as a result, much 
internal traffic congestion. The neces- 
sity of passing through the rear of the 
2d Armored Division also added to 
traffic problems. Both General Collins 
and General Hickey had to give personal 
attention to traffic control at critical 
road intersections in order to get CCA 
on its way. 7 

In spite of all these difficulties, recon- 
naissance troops of CCA reached the 
Sienne River in the early afternoon of 
30 July. They found the bridge to 
Gavray destroyed and the town, situated 
on the south bank, apparently held in 
strength. Conscious of high wooded 
ground across the river, where the Ger- 
mans possessed good observation, con- 
cealment, and fields of fire, and acutely 
aware of enemy artillery, the reconnais- 
sance troops made no effort to cross the 
little river before the main body of the 
combat command arrived. 

In late afternoon the two leading task 
forces of CCA were in position to make 
an assault crossing. After two armored 
field artillery battalions laid down a 
fifteen-minute preparation and fired 



7 VII Corps Opns Memo 51, 29 Jul (confirming 
oral orders, 28 Jul) ; Interv by author with Gen 
Collins, 2 Sep 55; Talk by Gen Collins at the 
Armored School, Fort Knox, Ky., 19 Jan 48 (in 
the Library of The Armored School) ; Ltr, Collins 
to Hechler, 9 Dec 45, quoted in Hechler, VII 
Corps in Operation Cobra, p. 219. 



counterbattery against several enemy 
pieces located by observation planes, the 
armored infantrymen waded into four 
feet of water to fight their way across. 
One task force appeared so hesitant in 
making its crossing that its commander, 
Lt. Col. Leander L. Doan, became im- 
patient, dismounted from his tank, and 
personally led the assault. 8 Actually, 
the Germans possessed little strength. 
Only scattered fire bothered the infantry 
as they crossed. In little more than a 
hour the two task forces had established 
a consolidated bridgehead and began to 
prepare for a counterattack that never 
came. Engineers set to work building 
a bridge so that tanks and other vehicles 
could cross the following morning. 

Although both attacking divisions of 
the VII Corps were across the Sienne by 
the evening of 30 July, General Collins 
was markedly disappointed that no more 
spectacular advances had been made. 
He therefore altered the plan of attack. 

For some time General Collins had 
been of the opinion that the 3d Armored 
Division was overcautious. He had, for 
example, seen dismounted reconnais- 
sance personnel searching for enemy 
troops while American vehicles nearby 
passed back and forth unmolested. He 
also felt that the 3d showed lack of ex- 
perience and needed aggressive leader- 
ship at the top. The command did not 
know, for example, "how to coil up off 
the road or close when it was stopped." 
Collins had observed a "long column 
going off the road through one hole in 
a hedgerow . . . one vehicle ... at a time 
. . . blocking the road to the rear for 
miles, holding up supplies and transpor- 



8 Colonel Doan was awarded the DSC for this 
action. 



308 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



tation coming forward." To replace the 
3d Armored Division, Collins brought 
the 1st Division south to take responsi- 
bility for the 3d Armored Division zone. 
This gave him "two exceptionally able 
commanders" in Generals Huebner and 
Barton. 9 

Attaching CCA to the 1st Division and 
CCB to the 4th Division— thereby reduc- 
ing the 3d Armored Division head- 
quarters to an administrative agency 
charged only with supplying and servic- 
ing the combat commands— Collins or- 
dered the infantry divisions to attack 
abreast, each spearheaded by the attached 
armor. With Cobra completed, he 
visualized a more distant objective ten 
miles south of Villedieu-les-Poeles: the 
4th Division was to proceed through 
Villedieu to St. Pois, which earlier, until 
the Tessy-sur-Vire battle developed, had 
been a XIX Corps objective; the 1st 
Division was to drive to Br£cey and be- 
yond, across the See River. 10 

The challenge of rapid advance came 
a day too early for the 4th Division, for 
the division lacked troops. Though the 
organic regiment that had been attached 
to the XIX Corps had been replaced by 
the 1st Division's 26th Infantry, the 26th 
now passed to its parent unit. Another 
of the 4th Division's organic regiments, 
the 8th Infantry, would not arrive from 
the Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly region until 
too late for the first day of renewed at- 
tack. Only one regiment, the 12th In- 
fantry, plus the attached armor, was on 
hand.. When the infantrymen attacked 
toward Villedieu-les-Poeles, they could 



• Gen Collins' Talk at The Armored School; 
Ruppenthal Notes, ML-2185. 

10 VII Corps Opns Memo 53, 31 Jul (confirming 
oral orders 30 Jul) . 



make only minor gains. At the same 
time, CCB moved eastward along the 
vulnerable left flank of the division and 
spent most of the day building bridges, 
reorganizing, and reducing occasional 
enemy roadblocks. 

Not until the evening of 31 July, after 
the arrival of the 8th Infantry, was the 
4th Division altogether ready to drive 
south. Calling his principal subordi- 
nates together, General Barton made it 
clear he had in mind rapid, sweeping 
advances. "We face a defeated enemy," 
he told his commanders, "an enemy ter- 
ribly low in morale, terribly confused. 
I want you in the next advance to throw 
caution to the winds . . . destroying, cap- 
turing, or bypassing the enemy, and 
pressing"— he paused to find the correct 
word— "pressing recklessly on to the ob- 
jective." 11 The units of the 4th Divi- 
sion and the attached armor took Gen- 
eral Barton at his word when they re- 
newed the attack on 1 August. 

Meanwhile, developments had oc- 
curred even more rapidly on the corps 
right, where CCA spearheaded the 1st 
Division attack on 31 July. One task 
force drove quickly against scattered 
German forces that were employing oc- 
casional tanks and antitank guns in inef- 
fective delaying actions. Hitting the 
broad side of an enemy column— light 
armor and personnel carriers— moving 
southwest from Villedieu toward Av- 
ranches, tankers of this task force dis- 
organized and dispersed the enemy with 
fire at close range, though fast-falling 
twilight helped a large part of the 
column to escape. Sensing the proxi- 



11 CI 30 (4th Div) ; see Hechler, VII Corps in 
Operation Cobra, pp. 236-37. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



309 



mity of stronger enemy forces, and un- 
willing to chance contact while his own 
troops were dispersed, General Hickey 
ordered the task force into defensive 
positions for the night near the village 
of l'Epine. 

More spectacular was the thrust of an- 
other task force under Colonel Doan 
that cut the Villedieu-les-Poeles-Gran- 
ville highway just west of Villedieu in 
the late afternoon of 31 July. As Doan 
was searching for a good place to halt, 
he received a message that General Col- 
lins wanted him to continue twelve 
miles farther to the final objective, Hill 
242, south of Brecey. Doan spurred 
his force on. Looking ahead to a rail- 
road embankment where he could ex- 
pect opposition, he asked for fighter- 
bombers to fly column cover to strafe 
and bomb the tracks as their last mission 
in the fading light of day. When the 
ground column crossed the railway un- 
opposed, the tankers noticed several un- 
manned antitank guns. Though the 
enemy crews later returned to their posi- 
tions to oppose the infantry in wake of 
the armored spearhead, the effective 
work of the fighter- bombers had spared 
the armor what could have been a costly 
engagement. 

Bypassing one of its original objec- 
tives, Hill 216 southwest of Villedieu- 
les-Poeles, Doan's task force barreled 
down the main road to Brecey during 
the early evening hours of 31 July. 
When the commander of the point had 
difficulty selecting the correct road at an 
intersection, Colonel Doan himself took 
over in his command tank. Making a 
Hollywood-type entry into Brecey, the 
task force commander took pot shots 
with his pistol at surprised German sol- 
diers who were lounging at the curb 



and in houses along the main street of 
the town. 12 

Though the principal bridge south of 
Brecey had been destroyed, Doan's com- 
mand prepared a hasty ford by hand- 
carrying rock to line the river bed. In- 
fantrymen waded the stream and sub- 
dued scattered small arms fire. Tanks 
and vehicles followed. The final objec- 
tive, Hill 242, lay three miles to the 
south, and only when his men reached a 
wooded area on the north slope of the 
hill did Doan permit a halt. 

On 1 August, a week after the begin- 
ning of Operation Cobra, VII Corps 
was near the base of the Cotentin, more 
than thirty miles due south of the 
Periers-St. L6 highway. General Col- 
lins had reversed his field and made an 
extraordinary gain that outflanked the 
German left. 

The Breakout to Avranches 

In the coastal sector of the Cotentin 
an even more outstanding achievement 
was developing. Under the supervision 
of General Patton, the Third Army com- 
mander, VIII Corps had been demon- 
strating vividly just how much Opera- 
tion Cobra had accomplished. 

When General Bradley instructed 
General Patton to supervise the VIII 
Corps exploitation growing out of 
Cobra, he gave Patton charge of opera- 
tions that intimately and personally con- 
cerned the Third Army commander. 
The quicker Patton got the VIII Corps 
to the threshold of Brittany, the sooner 
he would be able to enter battle at the 
head of his army. 

12 3d Armd Div CCA intervs cited in Hechler, 
VII Corps in Operation Cobra, pp. 246-48; 3d 
Armd Div CCA AAR, Jul. 



310 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



To enable Patton to supervise the 
VIII Corps, General Bradley had asked 
him to serve as his deputy for the forces 
on the right. 13 Though Patton re- 
mained in the background of command 
to the best of his ability, his presence 
was unmistakable, and his imprint on 
the operations that developed was as 
visible as his shadow on the wall of the 
operations tent. 

The situation facing the VIII Corps 
on the evening of 27 July was challeng- 
ing. On the one hand, the Germans 
were making a general withdrawal, 
which in effect invited the Americans to 
exploit. On the other hand, serious 
obstacles kept the Americans from mak- 
ing a rapid advance— the profusion of 
mines, wrecked vehicles, and enemy de- 
laying forces. Furthermore, the infan- 
try divisions that had carried the VIII 
Corps attack in Cobra filled the roads, 
and from the east came the VII Corps 
and the threat of congestion. As though 
the potential confusion between VII and 
VIII Corps units was not enough, a new 
corps, the XV, was scheduled to enter 
the line between the VII and the VIII as 
soon as the Third Army became opera- 
tional. 14 

For all these drawbacks, the absence 
of organized German resistance on 27 
July and the urge to reach the edge of 
Brittany exerted an overpowering in- 
fluence. General Bradley, after confer- 
ring with General Patton on 27 July, 
had already ordered General Middleton 
to disregard the Cobra limit of advance 

13 XV Corps G-3 Memo, Conf at Comd Post VIII 
Corps, 282000 Jul, 29 Jul, XV Corps G-3 Jnl and 
File; Pogue Interv with Bradley, Washington, 1948, 
Pogue Files. 

14 XV Corps G-3 Memo, Conf at Comd Post 
VIII Corps, 282000 Jul, 29 Jul, XV Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 



north of Coutances, and infantrymen of 
the VIII Corps were streaming south as 
quickly as engineers could clear paths 
for them through mine fields. 15 

That evening, as orders from Bradley 
shifted the First Army from Cobra into 
exploitation, Patton manifested his in- 
fluence by substituting armor for infan- 
try. Two armored divisions were to 
spearhead the attack to the south. 

In the Cobra attack, the lone armored 
division available to the VIII Corps, 
the 4th under Maj. Gen. John S. Wood, 
had been pinched out near the starting 
line. Located on the Carentan-Periers 
isthmus in corps reserve, the 4th 
Armored Division was behind the in- 
fantry forces completing their Cobra 
assignments when General Middleton 
ordered General Wood to move. 
Shortly after daylight, 28 July, Wood 
was to pass through the 90th Division 
and proceed through Periers and toward 
Coutances as far as Monthuchon. Ex- 
pecting troops of the VII Corps to have 
secured Monthuchon by that time, 
Middleton told Wood to co-ordinate 
with Collins' units so that he could con- 
tinue through Coutances to Cerences, 
twenty-two miles south of Periers and 
nine miles south of Coutances. 16 

The second armored force was a new 
unit, the 6th Armored Division under 
Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow, attached 
from the Third Army. Middleton 
alerted Grow to move from his assembly 
area north of la Haye-du-Puits and 
attack on the right of the 4th Armored 

16 XV Corps G-3 Memo, Conf at G-3 Office, 
Hq Third U.S. Army, 281600 Jul, 29 Jul, XV Corps 
G-3 Jnl File. 

10 4th Armd Div G-3 Jnl, entry 2115, 27 Jul, 
Overlay to Accompany FO 2, 26 Jul, and FO 3, 
28 Jul; VIII Corps Msgs, 1810, 27 Jul, and 0125, 
28 Jul, 4th Armd Div G-3 Jnl File. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



311 



Division down the Cotentin coast. 
Grow was to pass through the 79th Divi- 
sion, bypass Coutances on the west, and 
drive to Granville, twenty-eight miles 
south of Coutances. 17 

The plan of action for 28 July thus 
projected twin thrusts by the 4th and 
6th Armored Divisions moving abreast 
through two infantry divisions, the 90th 
and the 79th. In the expectation that 
XV Corps was to be inserted on the VIII 
Corps left, and, anticipating that the 
new corps would compress the 4th 
Armored Division zone of advance, 
General Middleton intended to assign 
the main effort to the 6th Armored 
Division on the right. Followed by the 
79th Division, the 6th Armored Division 
would subsequently drive from Gran- 
ville to the base of the Cotentin near 
Avranches. 18 

To make possible armored operations 
in a corps zone jammed with infantry 
troops and strewn with mines, Middle- 
ton ordered the infantry divisions to in- 
tensify their demining programs and to 
clear the main routes. The VIII Corps 
Engineer, Col. William R. Winslow, 
hastily organized teams to teach mem- 
bers of the armored divisions how to re- 
move new types of German mines. 19 
To assure control and balance while the 
armored divisions passed to the front, 
General Middleton instructed the troops 
to halt for further orders after capturing 
Granville and Cerences. 20 



17 6th Armd Div AAR, Jul, and G-3 Jnl, 28 Jul. 

18 XV Corps G-3 Memo, Conf at Comd Post 
VIII Corps, 282000 Jul, 29 Jul, XV Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 

19 357th Inf Jnl, entry 2220, 27 Jul; ETOUSA 
Engr Hist Rpt 10, Combat Engineering, p. 35. 

20 VIII Corps Msgs, 0125 and 0130, 28 Jul, to 
4th and 6th Armd Divs, FUSA G-3 Jnl. 



The 6th Armored Division recon- 
noitered its projected zone of advance 
on the afternoon of 27 July. The fol- 
lowing morning, as the infantry divi- 
sions of the VIII Corps continued to 
advance against no opposition, Grow 
received the order to start rolling. 21 
CCA (Brig. Gen. James Taylor) moved 
quickly to Lessay, where traffic con- 
gestion because of combat damage to the 
town, bridge repair, and mine fields re- 
tarded progress. Getting through Les- 
say was difficult, but by early afternoon 
CCA was moving rapidly toward Cout- 
ances. The only opposition to what 
resembled a road march came from an 
enemy roadblock two miles northwest 
of Coutances, where a few German in- 
fantrymen and one tank tried to delay 
the column. Bypassing Coutances on 
the west, the leading units of CCA 
moved a short distance down the coastal 
road toward Granville before halting for 
the night. 22 

In the left of the VIII Corps zone, the 
4th Armored Division had begun to 
advance shortly after daybreak, 28 July, 
when CCB (Brig. Gen. Holmes E. 
Dager) moved through Periers toward 



21 VIII Corps Msg, 1600, 27 Jul, and G-3 Jnl, 
entries, 0113, 0200, and 1045, 28 Jul; 6th Armd 
Div Msg, 2210, 27 Jul, FUSA G-3 Jnl; 6th Armd 
Div AAR, Jul. 

22 The basic sources for the action in the 
VIII Corps sector described below are: G-3 Sec- 
tion, Combat Record of the Sixth Armored Divi- 
sion in the European Theater of Operations, 
18 July 1944-8 May 1945, compiled under direction 
of Maj. Clyde J. Burk (Germany: Steinbeck-Druck 
Aschaffenburg, 1945) (hereafter cited as Combat 
Record of the Sixth Armored Division), an excellent 
documentary source, pp. 1-8; Capt. Kenneth Koyen, 
The Fourth Armored Division (Munich, Germany: 
Herder-Druck, 1946), pp. 7-21; F. P. Halas, VIII 
Corps Operations, 26-31 July 1944, a preliminary 
MS, Hist Div USFET (1945) , OCMH Files. 



312 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




Coutances. Near St. Sauveur-Lendelin 
a dense mine field held up progress. Re- 
connaissance troops vainly searched side 
roads for alternate routes, tank dozers 
came forward to construct bypasses, and 
the main body remained in place for 
three hours until engineers swept and 
deniined the main road. Under way 
again, CCB met scant opposition. The 
armor found no VII Corps troops at 
Month uchon and continued to the out- 
skirts of Coutances during the after- 
noon. When armored infantry dis- 
mounted and, accompanied by light 
tanks, entered the city on foot, German 
rear-guard troops fought back with 
artillery, mortar, and small arms fire. 
A sharp skirmish ensued. Supported by 
an artillery battalion that threaded its 
way forward through the stationary 
armored column, the armored infantry 
by evening had cleared Coutances of its 



scattered defenders. German artillery 
on high ground several miles east of the 
city gave brief and half-hearted inter- 
dictory fire. 2 ' 1 

By the end of a8 July, VIII Corps at 
last held Coutances, the objective that 
had lured the corps forward for almost a 
month. Cobra had accomplished what 
the battle of the hedgerows had not, but 
Coutances in the process had lost its 
value. More important, General Mid- 
dleton had two armored divisions at the 
head of his troops, almost in position to 
pursue a withdrawing enemy— almost in 
position, but not quite, for although the 

" 4th Armti Div G-3 Jul, 28 Jul; VIII Corps 
G— 3 Per Rpl 44, ag Jul; see Abbe Georges Cade], 
"Au Pays de Coutances," in Herval, Butatlte de 
Normiindie, 1, 166-87. General Wood reteived the 
DSC for his inspiring leadership at Coutatites 
during the engagement. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



313 



spearheads were in place, the columns 
were strung out and backed up through 
the countryside. The armor would re- 
quire another day to wriggle through 
the infantry. 

From a study of the terrain, it seemed 
that the Germans might try to anchor 
their right on Tessy-sur-Vire and with- 
draw their left. On this basis, the 
Germans might try to consolidate de- 
fenses and hold on one of three possible 
lines: Tessy-Coutances; Tessy-Gran- 
ville; or Tessy-Villedieu-les-Poeles- 
Avranches. 

By the end of 28 July, however, the 
Germans had lost Coutances and ap- 
peared incapable of stabilizing the front 
in the Cotentin. There was little in- 
dication of defensive preparations. The 
Germans seemed "completely disorgan- 
ized with no sign of co-ordinated resist- 
ance." Air reconnaissance disclosed no 
movement of reinforcements toward the 
area roughly bounded by Coutances, 
Avranches, and Percy. On the contrary, 
German vehicular columns were clutter- 
ing the roads below Brehal, Gavray, and 
Percy as they hurried south under 
punishment administered by American 
tactical aircraft. Destroyed and burn- 
ing vehicles lined almost every main 
road. Trees along a 200-yard line in 
Coutances had been notched for felling 
across the highway, but were still stand- 
ing when American troops arrived, clear 
evidence of the haste of the German 
withdrawal. Mines were scattered along 
roads and at intersections rather than 
in disciplined patterns. Defenders of the 
few isolated roadblocks that existed 
fought half-heartedly. Bridges were 
sometimes demolished, sometimes not. 
A small amount of light-caliber artillery 
fire harassed the American advance, but 



the bulk of the German artillery was en 
route south. 24 

Convinced that German reinforce- 
ments must be on their way to the Cot- 
entin from Brittany and from sectors 
east of the Vire River, American com- 
manders hoped to overrun the potential 
defensive lines that remained in the 
Cotentin before the reinforcements 
could arrive. General Middleton con- 
sequently raised his immediate sights to 
Avranches. 25 

On a picturesque bluff 200 feet high, 
Avranches overlooks the bay of Mont St. 
Michel and the famous rock clearly 
visible eight miles away. Avranches 
fascinated the Americans, not because of 
the sights that have interested tourists 
for so long but because it is at the base 
of the Cotentin. For practical-minded 
Americans in July 1944, Avranches was 
the symbol of egress from the Cotentin 
and entrance into Brittany. 

Avranches lies between two rivers, the 
See and the S^lune, which flow westward 
to the bay about four miles apart. The 
city snuggles against the See where two 
highway bridges funnel traffic from five 
highways arriving from the north and 
the east— two from Granville, one each 
from Coutances, Villedieu-les-Poeles, 
and Brecey. Below Avranches the roads 
are compressed into one main highway 
leading due south and across the Selune 
River near Pontaubault, where the high- 
way splits, the roads diverging and 
affording access to the east, south, and 
west. A bottleneck in the north-south 
road network, protected by water on 



24 VIII Corps G-2 Per Rpt 44, 28 Jul; FUSA 
Air Sec Msgs, 1800 and 2201, 28 Jul, 83d Div G—2, 
G-3 Jnl File, and G-2 Per Rpt 49, 29 Jul. 

26 VIII Corps Msg, 0030, 29 Jul, 83d Div G-2, 
G-3 Jnl and File. 



314 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



three sides, situated on commanding ter- 
rain, Avranches in the summer of 1944 
was a prize beyond compare. 

On the evening of 28 July, armored 
spearheads of the VIII Corps were more 
than thirty miles from Avranches, but 
separated from the city, General Mid- 
dleton believed, only by scattered op- 
position. He ordered the 6th Armored 
Division to strike swiftly through Gran- 
ville to Avranches while the 4th Armored 
Division took Cerences, then moved 
southeastward to secure a crossing of the 
See River at Tirepied, several miles east 
of Avranches. The capture of Avran- 
ches and of crossing sites over the See 
and Selune Rivers would make possible 
the commitment of the Third Army into 
Brittany, and to this end the 4th 
Armored Division was to hold open the 
natural bottleneck at the base of the 
Cotentin and block German forces that 
might threaten the slender corridor from 
the east. Attaching forty Quartermaster 
trucks to the 79th and 8th Divisions, 
Middleton instructed each of these in- 
fantry division commanders to motorize 
a regimental combat team. The teams 
were to be ready to assist the 6th and 
4th Armored Divisions, respectively. 26 

Shortly after daybreak, 29 July, the 
leading units of the 6th Armored Divi- 
sion moved southwest of Coutances to 
the Sienne River. At the destroyed 
bridge of Pont-de-la-Roque, small arms 
fire from the south bank stopped the 
advance. When reconnaissance revealed 
no other river crossing site in the divi- 
sion zone, CCA prepared a full-scale 
assault. The arrangements consumed 
most of the day. After a five-minute 
artillery preparation reinforced by tank 

28 VIII Corps Msg, 2355, 28 Jul, VIII Corps G-3 
Jnl and File. 



and tank destroyer fire, armored infan- 
trymen crossed the river early in the 
evening against light mortar and small 
arms fire and dispersed the few defend- 
ers. Engineers began to construct a 
bridge and prepare a ford. 

The ground gained was disappoint- 
ing, and the loss of 3 killed and 10 
wounded as against only 39 prisoners 
taken seemed to indicate that the divi- 
sion had been less than aggressive in its 
initial action. General Patton noted 
this pointedly to the division command- 
er, as did General Middleton, who 
tersely commanded General Grow to 
"put on the heat." 27 

On the left, the 4th Armored Divi- 
sion was making better progress. Gen- 
eral Wood saw that his axis of advance, 
the Coutances-Hyenville— Cerences high- 
way, crossed the Sienne River in three 
places. Anticipating that the Germans 
would have destroyed the bridges, he 
requested permission to use, in addition, 
the parallel highway— the Coutances- 
Lengronne road— two miles to the east. 
Unfortunately, the road was in the VII 
Corps sector. After a conference at 
corps and army echelons and despite rec- 
ognition that VII Corps troops driving 
westward from Montpinchon would 
probably overflow the highway and 
cause confusion and delay, the road was 
reassigned to the VIII Corps. General 
Wood then ordered CCB to use both 
main highways, a course of action the 
tankers had already initiated. 28 

Brig. Gen. Holmes E. Dager's CCB 

27 George S. Patton, Jr., War as I Knew It 
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1947) , pp. 
96-97; Ltr, Grow to OCMH, 29 Mar 56. 

2S VIII Corps G-3 Jnl, entry 0250, 29 Jul; VII 
Corps Opns Memo 51, 29 Jul (confirming oral 
orders 28 Jul) ; 4th Armd Div G— 3 Jnl, entry 0040, 
29 Jul, and Overlay (Routes of CCB, 4th Armd 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



315 



had worked through the night of 28 July 
to clear the scattered enemy troops in 
Coutances and just south of the city. 
At daybreak, 29 July, when two armored 
columns departed, only a few armed 
Germans and a profusion of mines re- 
mained in Coutances. 29 A damaged 
bridge immediately south of the city was 
quickly repaired. 30 Then, as fighter- 
bombers provided air cover, the armor 
drove forward on two routes, meeting 
sporadic resistance so disorganized that 
deployment was usually not necessary in 
order to overrun and eliminate it. In- 
terference from VII Corps tanks that 
overflowed from the adjacent corps zone 
was more serious, though not fatal. The 
CCB columns encountered and destroyed 
several German tanks late in the after- 
noon and rolled on to the Sienne River 
at Cerences and south of Lengronne. 
There, destroyed bridges brought the 
advance to a halt. 

In gaining about ten miles on 29 July, 
CCB had sustained little more than 30 
casualties and had taken 125 prisoners. 
The problem of handling surrendering 
enemy threatened throughout the day to 
consume more time and energy than did 
the terrain, traffic, and spotty resistance. 
"Send them to the rear disarmed with- 
out guards" became a standing operating 
procedure. 31 

Div, East and West Elements) , 1230, 29 Jul, 4th 
Armd Div G-3 Jnl; Interv by author with Gen 
Collins, Washington D.C., 2 Sep 55. 

20 4th Armd Div G-3 Jnl, 29 Jul, and CCB S-3 
Jnl, entry 0614, 29 Jul; VIII Corps G-3 Jnl, 29 Jul. 
Col. Louis J. Storck, the CCR commander, was 
killed when a mine destroyed his jeep in Coutances. 

30 Capt. William F. Pieri, who deactivated a row 
of mines blocking the bridge and enabled the 
armor to continue, was posthumously awarded 
the DSC. 

31 4th Aimd Div G-3 Jnl, 1825, 29 Jul, and 
CCB S-3 Jnl, entries 0730, 1033, and 1430, 29 Jul. 



By the end of 29 July, the 4th and 6th 
Armored Divisions were sufficiently for- 
ward to give promise of rapid thrusts to 
the south on the following day. Noth- 
ing the enemy seemed capable of doing 
appeared strong enough to block the 
advance. The "disorderly withdrawal 
of the enemy throughout the period con- 
tinued, showing no signs of slackening." 
German vehicular movement southward 
still clogged the roads south of Brehal 
and Cerences. Sporadic fire from 
isolated self-propelled guns harassed 
American bridging parties along the 
Sienne River, but other than that the 
leading units of VIII Corps were out of 
contact with organized German defenses. 
To the rear of the armor, the infantry 
divisions had held in place and collected 
about a hundred prisoners. The 79th 
and 8th Divisions each had a motorized 
regimental combat team ready to rein- 
force the armored divisions. The corps 
artillery had fired only registration mis- 
sions, had reconnoitered forward areas, 
and had displaced to the south as rapidly 
as possible. All seemed in readiness for 
a decisive thrust to Avranches. 32 

To General Middleton, the 4th 
Armored Division instead of the 6th 
now seemed in a better position to secure 
Avranches. The 4th was also mani- 
festing the superiority over untested 
units that experienced troops generally 
display. Earlier in the month, to the 
horror of some armored experts who had 
protested that an armored division 
should not be used to hold a static front, 



32 FUSA Sitrep 108, 30 Jul, G-2 Per Rpt 50, 30 Jul, 
and Msg, 0320, 30 Jul, 83d G-2, G-3 Jnl and File; 
VIII Corps G-2 Weekly Rpt 6, 29 Jul, and G-3 
Per Rpt 45, 30 Jul. 



316 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



General Middleton had assigned the 
4th a portion of the defensive line on 
the Carentan-Periers isthmus. There, 
during the week before Cobra, the divi- 
sion had learned enough of actual com- 
bat to acquire a confidence that was 
evident in its operations of 28 and 29 
July. To take advantage of these fac- 
tors, Middleton gave Avranches, the 
corps objective, to General Wood. The 
6th Armored Division was to capture 
Brehal and Granville. 33 

Dissatisfied with the progress of CCA, 
General Grow wished to get CCB (Col. 
George W. Read, Jr.) into action. He 
therefore passed CCB through the 6th 
Armored Division forces holding the 
bridgehead at Pont-de-la-Roque. Antic- 
ipating little resistance at Brehal, Grow 
expected CCB, after driving through the 
town, to bypass Granville on the east 
and encircle it from the south. 34 

As expected, little besides small arms 
fire along the main road opposed the 
approach to Brehal. CCB leapfrogged 
forward, firing high-explosive shells and 
canister into wooded areas along the 
road, and reached the outskirts of town, 
where a log roadblock with a rolling 
steel gate barred the way. After a flight 
of four P-47's made several unsuccessful 
passes at the obstacle, the lead tank in 
the column simply rammed the block, 
knocked down the logs, and opened a 
passage into the main street of Brehal. 
After several random shots, a few be- 
draggled Germans were herded into the 
town square. 

South of Brehal, CCB passed a pre- 



33 VIII Corps Msg, 29 Jul, 83d Div G-2, G-3 
Jnl and File. 

34 6th Armd Div FO 3, 0300, 30 Jul. 



pared but undefended roadblock and 
drove through light artillery fire inter- 
dicting the highway to Granville. Gen- 
eral Grow halted the advance short of 
the city to consolidate his gain. The 
division had moved about twelve miles, 
had taken more than 200 prisoners 
against 2 men killed and 10 wounded, 
and was demonstrating that it, too, was 
capable of aggressive and assured action. 

Meanwhile, the 4th Armored Division 
was carrying the main effort of VIII 
Corps. As soon as General Wood had 
learned that he was to take Avranches, 
he notified the CCB commander: 
"Present mission cancelled— using any 
roads [in zone] . . . move on Avranches 
... to capture it and secure crossings east 
thereof." 35 For all the urgency implied 
in this order, the destroyed Sienne River 
bridges at Cerences and south of Len- 
gronne continued to thwart advance 
until the afternoon of 30 July, when 
engineers bridged the stream. Only 
then could both columns of CCB cross 
the river and proceed to the south. 

The eastern column ran into an am- 
bush almost at once and after losing six 
half-tracks spent the rest of the day 
eradicating the resistance. Dismounted 
infantry, with support from artillery and 
a flight of fighter-bombers, attacked Ger- 
man positions on high ground obstruct- 
ing the advance, while antitank gunners 
engaged and destroyed two German 
tanks. At the approach of darkness the 
Germans retired, then shelled the high 
ground they had vacated, apparently on 
the premise that American infantrymen 
had occupied it. But the Americans 
had abandoned the hill to outpost the 



4th Armd Div G— 3 Jnl, entry 2130, 29 Jul. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



317 



tanks on the road during the night. 
When the skirmish ended, CCB had in- 
curred 43 casualties and lost eight half- 
tracks. 

The western column, under the 
personal command of General Dager, 
had better luck. Tanks moved rapidly 
for about ten miles through la Haye- 
Pesnel and Sartilly against virtually no 
resistance. Three and a half miles north 
of Avranches, the troops unknowingly 
passed within several hundred yards of 
the Seventh Army advance command 
post. General Hausser, Generalmajor 
Rudolf-Christoph Freiherr Gersdorff, 
and other general staff officers made their 
way to safety through the meticulously 
regular intervals of the column serials. 
On foot at first, later in comman- 
deered vehicles, the German officers fled 
eastward through Brecey toward Mor- 
tain. 36 

The CCB column continued to the See 
River just north of Avranches and dis- 
covered that both highway bridges were 
intact. Early in the evening troops en- 
tered Avranches, an undefended city for 
all its prize aspects. After outposting 
the southern and eastern outskirts quick- 
ly, General Dager sent a small force east- 
ward along the north bank of the See 
to secure the bridge at Tirepied, five 
miles away. 37 

The situation as it was known at VIII 
Corps headquarters on the evening of 
30 July was obscure, even to the achieve- 



30 James B. Hodgson, Report of Interview [on 
Avranches] With General von Gersdorff, 1954, 
MS R-40, OCMH. 

87 Armor, in the Exploitation or the 4th Armored 
Division Across France to the Moselle River (Ft. 
Knox, Ky., May, 1949) , a research report prepared 
by Committee 13, Officers Advanced Course, p. 20; 
Koyen, Fourth Armored Division, pp. 25, 26. 



ment at Avranches. 38 Abundant evi- 
dence indicated the complete absence of 
organized resistance in the corps zone. 
Airplane pilots reported having seen 
Frenchmen from Granville to Villedieu- 
les-Poeles "waving the Tri-Color," 
which obviously meant that the Ger- 
mans had withdrawn south of that line. 
Civilians reported Germans asking the 
road to Mayenne, twenty-five miles to 
the south. Prisoners, numbering 1,200 
on 30 July, consistently affirmed that 
German units were completely out of 
contact with each other and with higher 
headquarters. 39 Yet the experience of 
the 6th Armored Division in the coastal 
sector and the ambush of the 4th 
Armored Division eastern column 
pointed to the presence of hard-fighting 
enemy units. At the same time the 
whereabouts of the column in Avranches 
was unknown. If, as was rumored, 
troops of the 4th Armored Division's 
CCB had entered Avranches, then the 
VIII Corps left flank from Gavray to 
Avranches, a distance of ten miles, was 
wide open since the adjacent VII Corps 
on the evening of 30 July was crossing 
the Sienne River at Gavray. 40 

Unable to believe that German dis- 
organization was as great as represented, 
General Middleton was hopefully cau- 
tious until he learned definitely that 
American troops were in Avranches. 
Then, late on the evening of 30 July, 
Middleton acted with dispatch. He 
ordered Wood to push through Avran- 



38 See, for example, VIII Corps Msg, 2030, 30 Jul, 
83d Div G-2, G-3 Jnl and File. 

89 FUSA G-2 Per Rpt 51, 31 Jul; VIII Corps 
G-2 Jnl, 30 Jul, and Tel Msg, 1000, 30 Jul, VIII 
Corps G—3 Jnl. 

'"VIII Corps G—2 Jnl, 30 Jul; see above, p. 307. 



318 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



ches and across the Selune River and 
attached to the 4th Armored Division 
the motorized regimental combat team 
of the 8th Division that was ready to 
move. To prevent intermingling of the 
4th and 6th Armored Divisions on the 
restricted road net, Middleton told 
Grow to take Granville and move only 
as far toward Avranches as the Sartilly- 
la Haye-Pesnel line. 41 

Appreciating the necessity for speed 
and on-the-spot co-ordination, General 
Wood delegated control of all the 4th 
Armored Division forces in the vicinity 
of Avranches to General Dager by attach- 
ing to CCB not only the infantry regi- 
ment of the 8th Division but also CCA 
(Col. Bruce C. Clarke), which he had 
already dispatched to Avranches. 42 

Taking Avranches was not enough. 
The narrow coastal corridor, consisting 
of the single main highway from Avran- 
ches to the Selune River crossing near 
Pontaubault, four miles to the south, 
had to be made secure to allow the 
Third Army to pass into Brittany. The 
troops thus needed to hold Avranches 
and at the same time to seize and hold 
essential adjacent objectives: river cross- 
ings south and southeast of Avranches 
and high ground east and southeast. 
Part of the high ground between the See 
and Selune Rivers— rugged terrain 
where several reservoirs and dams were 
located— was an eventual objective of 
the VII Corps, but responsibility for the 
portion south of the Selune near the 
village of Ducey belonged, as did the 



41 VIII Corps G-3 Jnl, 30 Jul. 

12 4th Armd Div G-3 and CCB G-3 Jnls, 30 Jul; 
Halas, VIII Corps Opns, pp. 79-82; Ltr, Wood to 
OCMH, 24 Mar 54, OCMH Files. 



other tasks around Avranches, to Gen- 
eral Dager's CCB. 43 

General Dager learned at 0200, 31 
July, that he was soon to receive addi- 
tional forces to help him hold Avranches, 
establish Selune River crossing sites, and 
take Ducey. The news was opportune, 
less in terms of seizing the other objec- 
tives than in holding the one he had 
taken with such ease the afternoon be- 
fore. The fact was that trouble had 
developed at Avranches. 44 

First indications that Avranches might 
not be as easy to hold as it had at first 
appeared had developed about two hours 
before midnight of 30 July. At the See 
River bridge on the main highway from 
Granville, men of a CCB tank company 
detected the approach of a large German 
vehicular column along the coastal road 
from Granville. Because the vehicles 
were marked with red crosses, the tank- 
ers assumed they were evacuating Ger- 
man wounded. They allowed the first 
few to pass and cross the bridge into 
Avranches. But when Germans in 
several of the trucks opened fire with 
rifles, the tankers returned the fire and 
destroyed a few vehicles, thus blocking 
the road. With the column halted, 
German soldiers piled out of their 
vehicles and came toward the bridge, 
hands high in surrender. The tank 
company took several hundred prisoners. 
Examination revealed that the vehicles 
were loaded with ammunition and other 
nonmedical supplies. 

Learning from their prisoners that 



13 See VII Corps AAR, Jul. 

11 VIII Corps Msg, 0200, 31 Jul, 4th Armd Div 
G-3 Jnl and File; 4th Armd Div CCB S-3 Jnl. 
30 and 31 Jul; see Jean Seguin, "Remous de la 
Lutte autour d'Avranches," in Herval, Bataille de 
Normandie, I. 208-31. 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



319 



another, more heavily armed German 
column was also approaching down the 
coastal road from Granville, the men of 
the tank company became jittery. 
Small arms fire shortly after midnight 
announced the arrival of the second 
column. When an enemy shell struck 
an ammunition truck and set it ablaze, 
the tank company commander reached 
a quick decision. His position illu- 
minated, lacking infantry protection for 
his tanks, and outnumbered by his pris- 
oners, he ordered withdrawal. With- 
out having lost a man or a tank, the 
company abandoned several hundred 
prisoners and the Granville road bridge 
to move eastward to the See River bridge 
on the Villedieu-les-Poeles road. 

Over the unguarded bridge the Ger- 
mans, before daylight on 31 July, en- 
tered Avranches in considerable num- 
bers. Some emplaced several artillery 
pieces on the northwest edge of the 
Avranches bluff to dominate the bridge 
and the Granville road. Others in a 
column of trucks, horse-drawn wagons, 
and tracked vehicles turned eastward 
and disappeared into the darkness, 
headed toward Mortain. Still others 
moved toward the southern exits of 
Avranches, where they bumped into 
armored infantrymen of CCB, who were 
outposting the southern approaches to 
the city. Surprised, both American and 
Germans opened fire. In the confused 
fight, the action of one machine gunner, 
Pvt. William H. Whitson, was a decid- 
ing factor. Before he was killed, he 
destroyed nearly 50 Germans and more 
than 20 light vehicles with his .30-caliber 
gun. 45 



The Germans turned back, but only 
to reorganize for a second attack that 
came after daylight. The CCB infan- 
trymen were ready. Using white phos- 
phorus mortar shells effectively and sup- 
ported by the providential appearance 
of a flight of P-47's, they held their 
ground. When the attack collapsed, 
several hundred Germans surrendered. 

Meanwhile, General Dager had dis- 
covered the abandonment of the bridge 
on the Granville road and ordered the 
tank company commander to return. 
The company reached its former posi- 
tions on 31 July, about the same time 
that advance units of CCA were arriving 
on the scene. When the German artil- 
lery pieces on the bluff opened fire on 
CCA, tankers engaged them while 
armored infantrymen crossed the river, 
mounted the bluff, and captured the 
pieces. 

By the afternoon of 31 July General 
Dager was sure that the Germans at 
Avranches had actually been seeking an 
escape route and not attempting to re- 
capture Avranches. Dager considered 
the town secure. 48 He directed CCA to 
move on to the other task— seizing the 
main bridge across the Selune at Pontau- 
bault, a secondary bridge at Ducey, and 
two dams several miles southeast of 
Avranches. While the bridges were of 
prime importance, the dams were hardly 
less so. If the Germans destroyed the 
water gates and flooded the Selune, an 
immediate advance would be out of the 
question. 

The CCA commander, Colonel 
Clarke, divided his troops into four task 
forces. He directed each to one of the 



Pvt. Whitson was posthumously awarded the 
DSC. 



40 For his leadership, General Dager was awarded 
the DSC. 



320 BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 




four objectives, which were to be secured 
before nightfall that day, 31 July, and 
ordered the forces to bypass resistance. 
There was no information about the 
enemy, nor was there time to recon- 
noiter. With speed the important ele- 
ment, the task forces planned no special 
tactical dispositions- to provide advance 
or flank security. Since there was.no 
time to obtain air support liaison parties 
for the individual task forces, fighter- 
bomber pilots without direct commu- 
nication to the tankers found their own 
targets and kept track of progress on the 
ground by the bright cerise panels on 
the rear decks and the white painted 
stars on the tops of the tanks. 

One task force took Ducey after 
several short skirmishes and outposted 
the bridge there. Another secured its 



dam objective after overcoming minoT 
resistance. A third was well on its way 
to taking the other dam after plunging 
through a series of small roadblocks, 
knocking over several German motor- 
cyclists, destroying a few enemy tanks, 
running a gantlet of exploding shells in 
a destroyed ammunition dump, and 
finally capturing a company of German 
infantrymen who walked into the task 
force outposts on the assumption they 
were German positions. 

It seemed illogical to expect the Pon- 
taubault bridge, four miles due south of 
Avranches, to be captured intact. If 
the bridges at Avranches still stood 
through German oversight, it was un- 
likely that the same mistake would be 
made again. American reconnaissance 
pilots nevertheless had reported on 30 



BREAKTHROUGH BECOMES BREAKOUT 



321 




Destroyed Enemy Vehicles Cluttering a Street in Avranches 



July that the Pontaubault bridge was 
apparently in good condition and un- 
guarded. As late as the afternoon of 31 
July, pilots still failed to detect any 
German troops near the bridge. 47 

As a matter of fact, the Germans were 
trying to get into position to contest the 
Pontaubault bridge. They were too 
late. As a task force of the 4th Divi- 
sion's CCA swept across the bridge in 
the late afternoon of 31 July and out- 
posted the important road intersections 
immediately south of it, enemy vehicles 
approached from the west. Tank and 
artillery fire quickly dispersed them. 

The action completed by the 4th 
Armored Division by the morning of 1 
August gave VIII Corps three crossing 



sites over the See River (two bridges at 
Avranches and one at Tirepied, five 
miles to the east) and four over the 
Selune— easily enough routes to enter 
Brittany. With the division in position 
to continue south, General Middleton 
ordered the 6 th Armored Division, 
which had cleared Granville of scattered 
resistance and moved to the la Haye- 
Pensel-Sartilly line, to relieve the 4th at 
Avranches and Pontaubault. He also 
dispatched another regimental combat 
team of the 8th Division to the vicinity 
of Avranches and sent artillery and anti- 
aircraft units to guard the critical roads 
and bridges. 4 '' 



"VIII Corps G-3 
8> Jul. 



entries 1330 and 1430, 



** VIII Corps G-3 Jnl, entries 1523 and 1935, 
31 Jul; see Charles de la Morandiere, "L'Angoissc 
de Granville," and Mme. Paule Morlgat Lhomer, 
"Les Allies aux Portes d' Avranches." in Herval, 
Balaille de Normandie, I, 1 88-2O0. 801-07. 



322 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



That little stood in the way of con- 
tinued advance was clearly evident. The 
4th and 6th Armored Divisions together 
had taken more than 4,000 prisoners on 
31 July. The 79th and 8th Divisions, 
moving behind the armor on secondary 
roads, had done little more than process 
about 3,000 additional prisoners, all 
willing to be out of the war. In con- 
trast with these figures, casualties of the 
VIII Corps from 28 through 31 July 
totaled less than 7oo. 

Fighter-bomber pilots continued to 
wreak havoc on the retreating enemy 
columns. Destroyed enemy vehicles 
along the roads continued to constitute 
the chief obstruction to ground opera- 
tions. One pilot counted seventy 
vehicles burning during the night of 30 
July in the Vire-Laval-Rennes-Avran- 
ches region. Everywhere in the Coten- 
tin German disorganization was ramp- 
ant. Abandoned equipment and sup- 



plies—guns, tanks, and trucks— littered 
the countryside as German units fled 
south and east, and west into Brittany. 
So great was the destruction in the VIII 
Corps zone that "hundreds of dead 
horses, cows, and pigs [and the] stench 
and decay pervading" were judged 
"likely menaces to water points and 
possible bivouac areas." 49 

The facts were obvious. The Ger- 
man defenses in the Cotentin had 
crumbled and disintegrated. The 
Americans on the last day of July 1944 
possessed and controlled the last natural 
defensive line before Brittany. From 
the German point of view, the situation 
had become a " Riesensauerei" — one hell 
of a mess. 50 

" VIII Corps Engineer Recon Rpt, 31 Jul, VIII 
Corps C-3 Jnl and File; FUSA Msgs, 31 Jul, 30th 
Div G-3 Jnl File and 4th Armd Div G-3 Jnl 
and File. 

50 Telecon, Kluge and Blumentritt, 1023, 31 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 966. 



CHAPTER XVII 

The "Incalculable" Results 



The Riesensauerei 

"It's a madhouse here," Kluge cried 
in despair as he attempted to describe 
the situation on the morning of 3 1 July. 

At the Seventh Army command post 
in le Mans, Kluge for the second day 
was for all intents and purposes com- 
manding the LXXXIV Corps and the 
Seventh Army, in addition to perform- 
ing his official duties as commander of 
Army Group B and OB WEST . 

"You can't imagine what it's like," he 
told General der Infanterie Guenther 
Blumentritt, the OB WEST chief of 
staff, on the telephone. "Commanders 
are completely out of contact [with their 
troops]. Jodl and Warlimont [Hitler's 
chief advisers at OKW] ought to come 
down and see what is taking place." 

Who was to blame? The whole mess 
had started, it seemed to Kluge, "with 
Hausser's fatal decision to break out to 
the southeast. So far, it appears that 
only the spearheads of various [Amer- 
ican] mobile units are through to 
Avranches. But it is perfectly clear 
that everything else will follow. Unless 
I can get infantry and antitank weapons 
there, the [left] wing can not hold." 

Apropos of that, Blumentritt said, 
OKW wanted to know the locations of 
all the alternate and rearward defenses 
under construction in Normandy. 

Kluge did not hide his derision. "All 



you can do is laugh out loud," he replied. 
"Don't they read our dispatches? Haven't 
they been oriented? They must be liv- 
ing on the moon." 

"Of course," Blumentritt agreed 
smoothly. 

Kluge's mood changed. "Someone has 
to tell the Fuehrer," he said, without 
designating who was to perform the un- 
pleasant task, "that if the Americans get 
through at Avranches they will be out of 
the woods and they'll be able to do what 
they want." 

The terrible thing, Kluge said, was 
that there was not much that anyone 
could do. "It's a crazy situation." 1 

At 0030 on 31 July, Kluge had author- 
ized the Seventh Army to withdraw to a 
line from Granville to Troisgots. 2 
Thirty minutes later he was trying to 
get the LXXXIV Corps back still 
farther, to the Avranches-Villedieu-les- 
Poeles line, but without much success— 
for his messages were not getting 
through. At this time Kluge admitted 
unequivocably that his left flank had 
collapsed. 3 



1 Telecon, Kluge and Blumentritt, 1023, 31 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 966. 

2 AGp B Telecon, 0030, 31 Jul, AGp B KTB; 
AGp B Msg, 31 Jul, AGp B Op. Befehle, p. 206. 

3 Telecon, Kluge and Speidel, 0100, 31 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Jnl. This and the telephone 
conversations from the Seventh Army Telephone 
Journal that follow appear also in First U.S. Army, 
Report of Operations, I, 114ft. 



324 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



At 0920 Kluge learned definitely that 
the Americans were in Avranches, but 
other than that the entire situation in 
the Avranches-Villedieu sector was 
"completely unclear." The only facts 
that could be accepted with assurance 
were that German losses in men and 
equipment were high and that U.S. 
fighter-bomber activity was "unprece- 
dented." An "umbrella" of planes had 
covered American tanks advancing on 
Granville and Avranches. The respon- 
sibility for the crisis, he insisted, lay 
with Hausser's order for the left wing of 
the LXXXIV Corps to attack to the 
southeast. He had discovered that 
Choltitz had protested Hausser's order, 
and he felt that this futile protest 
absolved Choltitz • from blame for the 
subsequent disaster. Troops under the 
control of the 91st Division had estab- 
lished a thin line from Br£hal to Cer- 
ences as early as 28 July, but the Amer- 
ican penetration on 31 July near Cer- 
ences had "ripped open the whole west- 
ern front." The inevitable conclusion 
was that "Villedieu, springboard for 
movement east and south, is the anchor- 
point for Brittany, [and] has to be held 
under all circumstances or else has to 
be recaptured." 4 But Kluge could do 
no more than draw conclusions; without 
an organized front and without adequate 
communications, he was powerless to in- 
fluence the course of events. 

Fifteen minutes later, Kluge's great- 
est worry was still Villedieu. He did 
not know nor could he find out which 
side held the town. Suspecting the 
worst, he agreed to let the XLVII Pan 
zer Corps pull back the 2d and 116th 



' Telecon, Kluge and Speidel, 0920, 31 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Jnl; Seventh Army KTB, 28 Jul. 



Panzer Divisions to the Villedieu-Percy 
line. He knew that east of the Vire 
River, in the withdrawal toward the 
town of Vire, the // Parachute Corps 
had lost the greater part of the 3d Para- 
chute Division (including the 15th Para- 
chute Regiment attached to it). He 
knew also that the 21st Panzer Division, 
the last reserve division in Normandy, 
had been committed on the left flank of 
Panzer Group West, where the 326th In- 
fantry Division had been overrun by the 
British. 5 

Satisfied that he could do little on the 
front east of Avranches except hope for 
the best, Kluge set out to block the 
Americans at Avranches. At first he 
thought he could bring up two infantry 
divisions— the 84th and 89th— to deal 
with the small armored spearheads there, 
but he soon realized that the divisions 
could not possibly arrive in time. 6 He 
then turned to the forces in Brittany. 

Since early on the morning of 31 
July, when Kluge first faced the difficult 
and distasteful conclusion that the front 
was disintegrating, he had tried to get 
troops to hold the bridge near Pontau- 
bault. 7 Unsuccessful in this effort, he 
took the drastic step of stripping the 
Brittany defenses by ordering Fahrm- 
bacher, who commanded the XX V Corps 
in Brittany, to denude the St. Malo area 
of forces in order to prohibit the influx 
of Americans into Brittany. Specifi- 
cally, Fahrmbacher was to send all 
available mobile troops to hold the Pon- 
taubault bridge and from there to launch 



3 Telecon, Kluge and Gersdorff) 0935, 31 Jul. 
Seventh Army Tel Jnl; Hodgson, R-54 and R-58. 

6 These divisions reached the Normandy front on 
4 and 6 August. Hodgson, R-54. 

7 Telecon, Kluge and Zimmerman, 0210, 31 Jul, 
OB WEST KTB, Anlage 952. 



THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 



325 



a counterattack to the north to recapture 
Avranches. 

Fahrmbacher was handicapped in two 
respects. Though there were many un- 
employed naval and air force troops in 
his corps sector, he could not order them 
to assume ground force missions because 
they were not under his jurisdiction. 
The troops directly under his control 
and therefore available to him were gen- 
erally of two types— static troops guard- 
ing the coast line and units that had 
escaped from the Cotentin after taking 
heavy losses. Both lacked sufficient trans- 
port to make them mobile. Fahrmbach- 
er felt that he could not perform his 
mission at Avranches, but he tried any- 
way. 8 

Fahrmbacher dispatched toward Pon- 
taubault what remained of the yyth 
Division, a unit perhaps the equivalent 
of a battalion in strength, reinforced by 
assorted paratroopers and a company of 
assault guns. This force, under Col. 
Rudolf Bacherer, the yyth Division 
commander, reached the vicinity of Pon- 
taubault in the late afternoon of 31 July, 
only to find the Americans already 
there. 9 

Hours before this took place, Kluge 
had reported to Hitler through Warli- 
mont that he did not think it at all pos- 
sible to stop the Americans, who had 
broken out of the strong static defenses 
that had contained them in July. 10 
Hitler's "stand fast and hold" tactics, 
it appeared, had failed. 



"Telecon, Kluge and Fahrmbacher, 1000, 31 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Jnl; MS # 731 (Fahrmbacher) . 

"Seventh Army Tel Jnl, 31 Jul; OB WEST, a 
Study in Command, I, 129-30. 

10 Telecon, Kluge and Warlimont, 1045, 31 Jul, 
Seventh Army Tel Jnl. 



The Explanation 

How had it happened? How had an 
operation designed to reach the Cout- 
ances-Caumont line been parlayed from 
a breakthrough into a breakout? 

The explanation could be likened to 
a double exposure of the same subject, 
filmed from different points of view. 
The edges of the picture were slightly 
blurred, but the result was clearly dis- 
cernible. 

The Germans had astutely escaped 
the initial Cobra thrusts, only to fall 
prey to the later developments. They 
had been completely surprised by the 
Cobra bombardment and ground attack 
of 25 July. And yet they themselves 
had aggravated the consequences. That 
they had been outmaneuvered was soon 
apparent. Their communications facili- 
ties wrecked, they had found their en- 
deavors to re-establish order marked by 
ignorance and inevitable frustration. 
Unable to keep abreast of a Cobra 
operation that developed remarkable 
speed after a slow beginning, the Ger- 
mans were too late in their counter- 
measures. Hampered by shortages of 
manpower, equipment, and supplies, 
they were also the victims of their own 
mistakes. Whereas Eberbach had 
launched major portions of two panzer 
divisions in a counterattack several hours 
after Goodwood had begun and had 
thereby blocked British exploitation of 
a penetration already achieved, the 
Germans in the Cotentin were not able 
to match or even come close to Eber- 
bach's accomplishment. A large part of 
the confusing and conflicting drama that 
had ensued in the Cotentin could in the 
final analysis be traced to the failure of 
a few men to react quickly, with deci- 



326 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



sion, and in accord with a single pur- 
pose. 11 

At the beginning, German intelligence 
had failed. Radio interception had 
revealed significant changes in American 
dispositions during the week preceding 
Cobra, but these were not reflected in 
the reports that reached army group and 
theater headquarters. They did not 
even reach Hausser. 12 

More important than the lack of 
advance warning on Cobra and perhaps 
even more significant than the disparity 
in numbers of troops controlled by the 
opponents were Hausser's dispositions 
before Cobra, which had largely pre- 
determined his initial reaction. From 
the night of 13 July, when American 
pressure against the LXXXIV Corps left 
began to diminish, Hausser was increas- 
ingly free to regroup his forces because 
except for minor action the fighting in 
the Cotentin came to an end with the 
fall of St. L6 on 18 July. A week of 
poor weather conditions before Cobra 
gave Hausser further respite. In all, 
he had about ten days to reshuffle his 
forces in the Cotentin. The equivalent 
of nearly seven infantry divisions, these 
forces had numbered about 21,000 com- 
bat effectives. The infantry was in- 
capable of rapid movement, but Haus- 
ser had two panzer divisions that were 
highly mobile. Even though Panzer 
Lehr had not been at top strength (it 
had been unable— even with the support 
of its attached parachute regiment— to 
launch an attack east of the Vire River 



11 See Hodgson, R-58; MS # B-723 (Gersdorff) 
is a valuable source. 

^Seventh Army KTB, 22-24 J u ': OB WEST 
KTB, Anlagen Ic Anlageband II,, Feindlagekarten 
1.VII.-31.XII.44, Annexes 27 and 28; MS # B-464 
(Ziegelmann) . 



to regain St. L6), the 2d SS Panzer Divi- 
sion had been strong, confident, and 
aggressive. 13 Together, the two ar- 
mored divisions comprised a force in 
being that could have had a serious effect 
on Cobra. 

Kluge had suggested to Hausser that 
he pull his two panzer divisions out of 
the line, replace them with infantry, and 
conserve them for mobile action against 
American penetrations of the defensive 
line. Hausser, on the other hand, had 
been reluctant to deprive his static 
defense of armor. He believed that 
"tanks formed the backbone of the posi- 
tion; built into the ground, they served 
as antitank guns and as armored machine 
guns." 14 He had consequently held the 
armored divisions in place. 

As a result, instead of having the in- 
fantry absorb the shock of the Cobra 
assault and having an armored reserve 
capable of counterattack, Hausser had 
so disposed his troops that the Amer- 
icans knocked out one of the two panzer 
divisions in the Cobra bombardment- 
Panzer Lehr was immediately eliminated 
as a potential threat. The 2d SS Panzer 
Division, though more fortunate than 
Lehr in escaping bombardment, could 
not be extricated from the front in time 
for a decisive counterattack role. Once 
the Americans broke through, their 
mechanized and motorized troops easily 
outmaneuvered German infantrymen 
and paratroopers who comprised Haus- 
ser's immediate reserves, forces that were 
sadly deficient in transportation facili- 
ties. Without additional assembled 
reserves, Hausser could not close the gap 



18 Hechler, The tnemy Build-up Prior to Opera- 
tion Cobra; MS #159 (Stueckler) . 
14 MS # A-903 (Bayerlein) . 



THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 



327 



that developed between the LXXXIV 
and // Parachute Corps. 

By the very terrain his troops oc- 
cupied, Hausser might have visualized 
his task as the maintenance of a resilient 
defense. He might have envisaged a 
gradual hard-fought withdrawal, if neces- 
sary, to the Ayranches-Vire-Caen line 
(which Rundstedt and Rommel had dis- 
cussed around the end of June), for such 
a withdrawal would have been in accord 
with the defensive concept in Normandy. 
Eberbach, in contrast, could not with- 
draw his Panzer Group West and retain 
for the forces in Normandy the same 
conditions of warfare. Despite the im- 
possibility of his even considering a 
withdrawal and despite his lack of in- 
tention to withdraw, Eberbach had con- 
structed alternate positions to the rear. 
Hausser, who could have justified a 
withdrawal and who could have given 
up ground without endangering the 
forces of Army Group B, had failed to 
prepare even rally points to the rear. 

Though Hausser had not designated 
alternate positions, Choltitz was suffi- 
ciently security conscious— perhaps sim- 
ply cautious enough— to do so on his 
own authority. Afraid to appear a 
defeatist in Hausser's eyes, Choltitz did 
not tell him of the alternate positions. 
The relationship between the two com- 
manders was founded on a lack of 
mutual trust, co-operation, and under- 
standing that bred confusion. When 
Choltitz had marked a line of defense to 
the rear, he had been responsible for the 
defense of the Cotentin from the west 
coast to the Vire River. After the fall 
of St. L6, when the 552^ Division with- 
drew behind the Vire River west of St. 
L6 and took positions on the west bank, 



Hausser allowed it to remain under the 
control of the // Parachute Corps. 
Thus, when Choltitz shortly after the 
Cobra bombardment ordered Panzer 
Lehr to man a designated line to the 
rear, the consequence was that Lehr had 
neither contact with the 352^ nor an 
anchor on the Vire River. Both units 
had floating flanks. When the 552^ 
withdrew a day later to anchor the flanks, 
Panzer Lehr had been further jostled by 
the Cobra exploitation and was beyond 
salvation. 15 

Kluge shared in the accountability for 
defeat. Concerned with the Panzer 
Group West sector and worried about 
the positions south of Caen, he had failed 
to note Hausser's inadequate prepara- 
tions for defense. It should have been 
clear to him that Hausser had not 
grasped the role of the Seventh Army in 
the defense of Normandy. 16 Yet Kluge 
was preoccupied with the British threat 
to Falaise, and he did not remark 
Hausser's failure to comply with his in- 
structions on creating armored reserves. 

Kluge criticized Hausser explicitly 
soon after Cobra began for his em- 
ployment of the 2d SS Panzer Division. 
He condemned Hausser's helplessness in 
the face of communications difficulties. 
He thought that Hausser was permitting 
inefficiency among army staff members, 
particularly his chief of staff, General- 
major Max Pemsel, who, Kluge felt, 
would hamper Hausser's influence on 



16 See MS # B-418 (Choltitz); MS # B-489 
(Ziegelmann) ; MS # P-159 (Stueckler) ; MS # B- 
179 (Hausser) ; Pz Lehr Div FO, 23 Jul, Pz Lehr 
Div lb KTB, AUg. Anlagen, Annex 241. 

10 See Hausser's Est of the Situation, ig Jul, and 
Kluge's forwarding letter, 21 Jul, AGp B la 
Lagebeurteilungen und Wochenmeldungen. 



328 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



the course of the battle. 17 He thought 
it necessary to restrain Hausser's request 
to withdraw, and he had insisted on 
withdrawal only for the purpose of gain- 
ing reserves. On the morning of 28 
July he remarked that Hausser and Pem- 
sel were obviously not masters of the 
situation and that he had just about de- 
cided to relieve at least Pemsel. 18 That 
same morning he sent his son Guenther, 
a lieutenant colonel who was his aide, 
to the Seventh Army sector as his per- 
sonal representative. 

The climax of Kluge's doubt came on 
the question of Coutances. Though 
Kluge considered closing the gap in the 
Seventh Army center vital, he felt that 
retention of Coutances was even more 
important. When Pemsel assured 
Kluge on 28 July that strong rear-guard 
action north of Coutances would keep 
the Americans out of the city and pre- 
vent them from launching a major effort 
along the coast, Kluge was certain that 
Hausser understood the significance of 
Coutances— that loss of Coutances would 
open the door to an American drive that 
might outflank the counterattack about 
to be launched in the army center by 
the XLVII Panzer Corps. 19 His sur- 
prise bordered on shock when he re- 
ceived word that evening of Hausser's 
plan to have the LXXXIV Corps in the 
Coutances area escape American encir- 
clement by attacking southeast, rather 
than by withdrawing south along the 
coast. By virtually abandoning Cout- 
ances and projecting a concentration of 



17 Telecon, Kluge, Pemsel, and Tempelhoff, 1845, 
26 Jul, AGp IS KTB. 

18 Telecon, Kluge to Warlimont, 0925, 28 Jul, 
AGp IS KTB. 

"Telecon, Kluge and Pemsel, 1640, 28 Jul, 
AGp B KTB. 



forces near Percy, Hausser removed op- 
position to an American advance down 
the west coast of the Cotentin. 

Kluge's countermand of Hausser's or- 
der had little effect because of inade- 
quate communication facilities. A re- 
sult was that Hausser's act brought to a 
head Kluge's dissatisfaction with the 
Seventh Army leadership. That eve- 
ning, though apparently without au- 
thority to relieve Hausser, who was one 
of Himmler's SS commanders, or per- 
haps not daring to, Kluge replaced 
Pemsel with Gersdorff; Choltitz, the 
LXXXIV Corps commander, with Gen- 
eralleutnant Otto Elfeldt. 20 Kluge must 
have regretted that Hausser still com- 
manded the Seventh Army on the follow- 
ing day, for again he countermanded 
Hausser's order committing the XLVII 
Panzer Corps to defense between Tessy 
and Gavray. 

By the time that Kluge took an active 
part in the Cotentin operation, the bat- 
tle was lost. Even though he drew upon 
Eberbach's Panzer Group West reserves 
in an attempt to stem the tide of events, 
he did so with reluctance, not because 
Goodwood had exhausted those oper- 
ational reserves concentrated south of 
Caen, but because in the midst of the 
Cobra deluge he still believed that the 
decisive action would take place on the 
eastern flank near Caen. Kluge was, 
of course, mistaken. 

German errors were only part of the 
story. The breakout also illustrated the 
magnificent ability of American com- 
manders to take advantage of the op- 
portunities and transform a limited en- 
velopment in process to a breakthrough 
that became a breakout. 



20 Hodgson, R-40. 



THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 



329 



The abortive Cobra bombardment 
on 24 July had acted as a ruse. It had 
given the Germans a false sense of con- 
fidence and had nailed down the Ger- 
man main line of defense along the Pe- 
riers-St. L6 highway. The real bom- 
bardment on 25 July had smashed the 
defense in the Marigny-St. Gilles gap. 
Though not at first apparent, the massed 
heavy and medium bomber attack had 
destroyed the efficiency and the initiative 
of the German soldier, both as an 
individual and as a member of the com- 
bat team, and had provided American 
ground troops with an initial impetus 
that turned out to be decisive. 

To the Germans, the mere presence 
of unopposed aircraft overhead had 
been depressing, but the bombing itself 
had produced a temporary demoral- 
ization and a loss of will to fight or even 
to move about in the area under attack, 
a psychological effect that had given the 
Americans a tremendous tactical advan- 
tage. German casualties were later con- 
servatively estimated as 10 percent of the 
total troops in the area. Even more 
important than the casualties were the 
confusion, the disruption of communi- 
cations, and the shock effect. Some 
German soldiers were still deaf twenty- 
four hours later. Despite the bomb 
casualties among American troops, de- 
spite the fact that small isolated German 
groups had still been able to resist after 
the bombing, the Cobra bombardment 
was later judged to have been the best 
example in the European theater of 
"carpet bombing." 21 

The small and isolated German 
groups in the Marigny-St. L6 gap that 

" USSAFE, Intelligence Study on Effectiveness of 
Carpet Bombing, 21 Feb 45, Hist Sec AF File, 
Carpet Bombing. 



had been able to resist had performed 
so well that they had maintained a sem- 
blance of the opposition that had stopped 
the Americans in the battle of the hedge- 
rows earlier in the month. Expecting 
the same kind of combat, American in- 
fantrymen had been afflicted with a 
caution that, in view of the lack of or- 
ganized German defense, approached 
timidity. 

Recognizing that the entire First Army 
attack depended on getting through the 
German defenses at once, General Col- 
lins had dissipated the hesitation mark- 
ing the American ground attack on the 
first day of Cobra, 25 July, by commit- 
ting his armor on the morning of 26 
July. That act had insured Cobra's 
success, but the forces in the VII Corps 
main effort had not made the decisive 
thrust. Rather, the aggressiveness of 
General Brooks' 2d Armored Division 
and the single-minded leadership of Gen- 
eral Rose had carried CCA, and with 
it the VII Corps, into the exploitation 
phase of Cobra. 

Again sensing a critical moment, 
General Collins had ordered continued 
attack through the night of 26 July. 
It was this— in particular the activity of 
General Barton's 4th Division— that had 
rammed the Cobra attack home. Had 
the VIII Corps attacked during the 
night of 26 July, the Germans on the 
Cotentin west coast might not have 
slipped away in the dark to temporary 
escape. 

The German miscalculations that had 
allowed the Cobra attack to cross the 
original relatively limited horizon and 
had made possible the ppst-CoBRA op- 
portunity for exploitation were quickly 
seized upon by General Bradley. De- 
spite strong German forces between 



330 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



Lessay and Periers and despite the 
ability of German forces at Marigny to 
keep the Cobra main effort toward 
Coutances from reaching fruition, Gen- 
eral Bradley exploited and deepened a 
nascent disorganization of the enemy as 
disastrous as that caused by the heavy 
bombers, as compelling as the effect of 
the American ground attack. 

With the chief Cobra premise invali- 
dated because the Germans had eluded 
not only the principal Cobra envelop- 
ment to Coutances but also the sub- 
sidiary thrust, the Americans closed 
another trap with alacrity around Ron- 
cey. Hausser's premature anticipation 
of the encirclement of his west coast 
forces— a maneuver that was never actu- 
ally completed— and his order for the 
troops on the left to attack toward the 
southeast would have had little effect on 
the ultimate result if American troops 
had not been in place to block them— 
in particular the 2d Armored Division 
and General White's CCB, which had 
displayed a ruthlessness in its destructive 
capacity. The German hold on the 
Cotentin west coast broken and the way 
thereby open not only to an encircle- 
ment of the LXXXIV Corps left but 
also to the much more serious encircle- 
ment of the entire German defensive 
line in France, the Americans again 
acted with dispatch. 

With the Germans themselves having 
largely planted the seeds of their own 
destruction, "it was only necessary for 
the First Army to take advantage of the 
disorganized state of the enemy." Gen- 
eral Bradley had not been at all hesitant 
about issuing his orders for the 
post-CoBRA exploitation. "Consequent- 
ly, the ensuing period, which the 



[Cobra] plan had conceived [of as] . . . 
a holding and mopping-up period, be- 
came a vigorous attack period." 22 Gen- 
eral Corlett's XIX Corps had blunted 
the enemy's planned counterattack at 
Tessy and had thereby destroyed Ger- 
man hopes of quickly re-establishing a 
defensive line in the Cotentin. Gener- 
al Collins' rapid reorganization of the 
VII Corps and the spectacular thrust of 
3d Armored Division task forces toward 
St. Pois and to Brecey had denied the 
Germans the vital terrain about Ville- 
dieu-les-Poeles. General Patton's modi- 
fication of the VIII Corps attack by in- 
serting twin armored columns and the 
sensational success of General Wood's 
4th Armored Division had exploded the 
nightmare of static warfare that had 
haunted the Americans so long in the 
Cotentin. 

The British and Canadian contri- 
butions to the development of the break- 
out are difficult to judge. There is no 
doubt that General Montgomery had 
worried Kluge in the Caen sector. By 
creating uncertainty in the mind of the 
German field commander, Montgomery 
had added to and deepened the surprise 
that accompanied the American oper- 
ation. Except for two armored di- 
visions that had moved to the American 
zone to oppose the post-CoBRA exploi- 
tation, Montgomery had tied down the 
strength of Panzer Group West, which 
still guarded the vital approaches to 
Falaise. Whether General Montgomery 
had visualized it so, or whether he was 
aware of the historical example, the 
breakout in Normandy from a larger 



22 First U.S. Army, Report of Operations, I, 
106-07. 



THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 



331 



perspective resembled in the essentials 
of maneuver the operation in Sicily of 
less than a year earlier. There, too, 
Montgomery's forces had tied down the 
enemy while Patton's U.S. troops carried 
the main assault and made the striking 
gain. 

Two days before Cobra, General 
Montgomery had suggested it might be 
advantageous to drop parachute troops 
to seize bridgeheads over the See and 
Selune Rivers— to block a German re- 
treat, to prevent the enemy from sta- 
bilizing his line at Avranches, and to 
facilitate the projected American thrust 
into Brittany. General Bradley had 
vetoed this relatively shallow drop. 23 
As it turned out, an airborne operation 
was unnecessary. 

General Eisenhower had sounded the 
keynote when he had written General 
Bradley on the eve of Cobra: 

My high hopes and best wishes ride with 
you in your attack . . . , which is the 
largest ground assault yet staged in this 
war by American troops exclusively. 
Speaking as the responsible American 
rather than the Allied Commander, I assure 
you that ... a breakthrough at this junc- 
ture will minimize the total cost [of vic- 
tory]. . . . Pursue every advantage with 
an ardor verging on recklessness and with 
all your troops without fear of major coun- 
ter offensive from the forces the enemy 
now has on his front. . . . The results will 
be incalculable. 24 

The results were indeed incalculable. 
Of the 28,000 German prisoners the 
First Army captured during the month 
of July, 20,000 were taken during the 
last six days. No German defensive 

23 21 AGp Msg, 23 Jul, and FUSA Msg, 23 Jul, 
FUSA G-3 Jnl. 

2< Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery for Bradley, 
24 Jul, FWD-12438, Pogue Files. 



capability was apparent in the Pontau- 
bault-Brecey-Villedieu-les-Poeles sector. 
The LXXXIV Corps was smashed. 
The // Parachute Corps was beaten. 
The Seventh Army had been defeated. 
The way was open to even greater Ger- 
man disaster and even more incalculable 
results. 25 

The Allied Outlook 

The action that had developed so 
rapidly on the First Army's right during 
the last few days of July was a preview 
of what was to come in August. Signif- 
icantly, armored units had transformed 
the breakthrough into the breakout in 
all of the three corps sectors west of the 
Vire River. Even in the region east of 
the Vire, the British 11th Armoured Di- 
vision had manifested the type of slash- 
ing power inherent in armored forma- 
tions. 

On the First Army right, the combat 
command had become the basic unit of 
advance. In the VII Corps sector, a 
new combination had evolved: a combat 
command attached to each infantry di- 
vision, imparting the armored character- 
istics of fire power, mobility, and shock 
to the infantry capacity for sustained 
action. In all the corps sectors west of 
the Vire, balanced teams of tanks, tank 
destroyers, motorized infantry, artillery, 
and engineers had pushed ahead, making 
generous use of marching fire. The 
units had automatically taken cross- 
roads, road junctions, defensible terrain 
features, hedgerows, and buildings under 
fire in order to neutralize potential resist- 
ance. All forces in the exploitation had 
cut German telephone wires. Leading 



FUSA G-2 Per Rpt 52, 1 Aug. 



332 



BREAKOUT AND PURSUIT 



units had made a constant effort to over- 
run German outposts before they could 
relay information on American progress. 
The hedgerow cutter, developed to give 
armor mobility in the hedgerow country, 
was of little tactical value in the break- 
out, except possibly as a morale factor 
to the troops, since the tanks advanced 
on the roads, not cross-country. 

Taking light casualties, U.S. troops 
felt their morale soar as the opposition 
melted. The sight of German prisoners 
in large numbers, "so happy to be cap- 
tured that all they could do was giggle," 
dimmed unhappy memories of the bat- 
tle of the hedgerows. 26 The absence of 
an established enemy line and the re- 
placement of the formerly well-prepared 
defensive positions with hastily dug 
trenches and ill-constructed emplace- 
ments brought exultation to American 
troops. The abandoned, wrecked, and 
disabled enemy vehicles that littered 
the roads were much less troublesome 
obstacles than well-manned strongpoints 
or villages and towns that had been both 
objectives and obstacles. 27 The 15,000 
engineers who had participated in Cobra 
had performed with distinction their 
primary effort of keeping the main 
routes open, thereby enabling over 
100,000 combat troops to pour through 
a gap not more than five miles wide. 28 
The resulting situation had become so 
fluid that it had often been difficult for 



26 83d Div G-2 Per Rpts 30 and 32, 27 and 28 Jul. 

27 3d Armd Div CCB AAR, Jul. By 2 August, 
the First Army Ordnance Section possessed, in part, 
the following captured materiel: 75 Mark IV, 25 
Mark V, and 27 Mark VI tanks; 22 77-mm., 20 
76-mm., and 9 88-mm. assault guns. FUSA Ord 
Office, Consolidated Rpt of Captured Tanks and 
Assault Guns, 2 Aug, FUSA G— 2 Jnl and File. 

28 CI 344-A (Engrs in the Breakthrough of 
VII Corps) . 



headquarters to transmit their orders to 
subordinate units or to receive new in- 
structions from higher headquarters. 29 

Artillery had played a comparatively 
minor role. Only the armored bat- 
teries accompanying the advance units 
had been called upon to eliminate the 
occasional resistance that small German 
groups had hurriedly organized. Artil- 
lerymen had fired their machine guns 
more often than their howitzers. The 
question of adequate artillery ammuni- 
tion supplies had vanished, and even 
though rationing had remained in effect 
throughout the month, it had no effect 
on the small expenditures that had been 
necessary. 30 

Although the method of supplying 
the forward troops changed somewhat, 
General Collins later recalled "no real 
supply difficulties that hampered the 
actual operation." 31 Combat units car- 
ried more than their regular allowances 
of gasoline, usually double the amount. 
With kitchens left in the rear in increas- 
ing numbers, the combat troops for the 
most part ate cold K rations or heated 
their own 10-in-i rations. Distances 
between depots and the front-line units 
increased. Sometimes tanks or armored 
cars escorted supply columns to assure 
their safety. Facilities for handling pris- 
oners had suddenly become over- 
burdened, and the First Army estab- 
lished two "holding enclosures" several 
miles behind the front as temporary 
prisoner installations until Communica- 

" See, for example, 1st Div G— 3 Jnl, entry 2300, 
28 Jul. 

30 Gen Bd USFET Rpt on Ammo Supply for 
FA, Study 58, File 471/1; Gen Bd Arty Rpt, App. 
C; VIII Corps AAR, Jul; Koyen, Fourth Armored 
Division, p. 25. 

11 Ltr, Collins to Hechler, 7 Dec 45, as cited 
in Hechler, VII Corps in Operation Cobra, p. 16. 



THE "INCALCULABLE" RESULTS 



333 



tion Zone guards could march the cap- 
tives to the invasion beaches for transfer 
to England. 32 

The wretched weather that earlier 
had hampered operations in Normandy 
had vanished. With the launching of 
Cobra, "the weather turned fair, and 
the last days of July were characterized 
by brilliant sunshine and warm tempera- 
tures." 33 This, perhaps as much as 
anything, had insured the success of the 
breakout, for it had permitted a most 
heartening development in the close 
and effective co-operation between the 
pilots of the fighter-bombers and the 
tankers leading the ground forces. 

From 26 July through the end of the 
month, over 400 support missions were 
flown over First Army spear